There’s nothing like a little victory dinner after taking down a border-town rival, but the Kenston baseball players made sure to treat their taste buds to a little something extra last Thursday evening.
Beating Chagrin Falls, 7-4, on its home diamond, the Bombers clinched at least a share of their first Chagrin Valley Conference title since 2011 and made sure they would dine nearby to flaunt their Kenston sports apparel in the Tigers’ hometown.
It was only fitting that senior centerfielder Peter Rozman earned the win on the mound, as he is the only Kenston player who was on varsity, as a freshman, during the Bombers’ 2011 banner season.
“Well, I lost a game last year to Chagrin, and so that stuck with me,” he said about a blown save that allowed the Tigers to prevail, 5-4, after nine innings, essentially costing the Bombers a share of the CVC title with Aurora.
“I knew I would win the game for my team this year,” Rozman said. “So I was just determined to win no matter what. It’s definitely huge. My freshman year, we had a really good team, and we haven’t won the title since. So it’s great my senior year to win it again and bring it back to Kenston.”
Rozman threw a complete game, 121 pitches, striking out eight Tiger batters, while giving up three walks, six hits and just two earned runs.
While it’s rare for a high school pitcher to toss so many balls to the plate in a single outing, it’s more common than one would think in a rivalry title-clincher game. Chagrin 2013 graduate Keith Orzen threw 123 pitches in that 5-4 battle last year.
“Honestly, right now, with all the adrenaline, it feels great,” Rozman said about his arm after last Thursday’s banner clincher. “But I’m sure tomorrow it’ll be killing me.”
With a couple of infield errors by the Bombers in the bottom of the second inning, Chagrin nine-hole batter Joey Casarona made them pay with a two-out, two-RBI double down the left field line for a 2-1 Tiger advantage.
After three scoreless innings, the Bombers stepped to the plate in the top of the sixth still trailing by one run.
Kenston senior right fielder Anderson Ellis, who would finish the game with three of the Bombers’ nine hits from the seven hole, said there was no way his team was going to let the Tigers get away with another 2-1 victory like they did two days prior.
“We just knew that when we brought it up in that sixth inning that we had to get our bats going, because we weren’t going to lose another one like that,” he said. “So we decided, you know, ‘Let’s get after it and swing our bats.’ We starting hitting well by just putting the ball in play.”
Rozman started the inning off with a walk, stole second base and then found his way home off a full-count RBI double by senior third baseman Anthony Hajdu to knot the game, 2-2, and force a Chagrin pitching change.
“As soon as one person gets it done, everyone will start hitting, and that’s what happened,” Hajdu said about his contagious swing that spread to the rest of his team. “To finally get the bats going, to finally get our team to start hitting the ball, everyone got pumped, and everyone got going.”
With a new pitcher on the mound, Kenston first baseman Jimmy Artale replicated with another full-count, RBI double. This one flew over the head of the Tigers’ left fielder.
Ellis then smacked an RBI single through the third base-shortstop gap. And senior Nathan Blake followed up with a full-count, RBI single to force another Tiger pitching change in the inning and a 5-2 Kenston lead.
Against the third pitcher of the inning, Kenston’s next two batters walked to load the bases with just one out. The rally appeared to be in good shape to continue, but Tiger senior catcher Johnny Thombs picked off a Bomber at third who fled too far off the bag when a pitch went in the dirt. Then, Chagrin junior pitcher Bryant Kennedy picked off another Bomber at first to get out of the inning.
“That whole inning was huge,” Artale said. “A big thing was our dugout was in it every pitch, every play. I think that helped a lot and got Chagrin out of their rhythm. I mean, they have good pitching, but that’s what did it for us.”
Back to work in the top of the seventh, Rozman tagged a 320-foot double off the right-field fence, just 2 feet shy of the parking lot.
With one out, Chagrin intentionally walked Hajdu to face Artale instead.
“I knew I was either going to make them pay or do my job and move the runners over,” Artale said. “That’s a personal insult to me. So I’m glad I made them pay.”
On a 2-2 count, Artale smacked a two-RBI double to right field for the Bombers’ 7-3 lead before Rozman took care of business in the bottom of the seventh.
With the victory, the Bombers improved to 11-6 with a 7-2 mark in the CVC, while Chagrin dropped to 15-7 with a 7-3 CVC mark.
Kenston is scheduled to play at Aurora, 16-7 with a 6-3 CVC mark, at 4:30 p.m. Thursday in an attempt to gain sole ownership of the crown.
“Last year, we almost had it, and we let it go,” Ellis said. “This year, it feels great. And we don’t want to share it. We hate Chagrin, and we hate sharing anything with Chagrin. So we want it all by ourselves, and that’s what we’re going to do.”