One last trip around the bases

NILES – The last baseball game of Michael Montalbano’s high school career left the Ursuline graduate with a bad taste in his mouth.

The Fighting Irish fell to Orrville, 8-7, in a heartbreaking loss in the Division III regional final in Massilon. Ursuline had a three-run lead going into the top of the sixth inning until Orrville struck for four runs to slam the door on the Irish’s 2014 season.

“It ended in a bad way, there was nothing we could do about it,” Montalbano said.

Montalbano, who will be attending Mercyhurst North East junior college this fall, thought his high school career was over, but when he was presented with a chance for redemption, he took it and ran with it. He and fellow teammate Dion Felger competed as part of the Mahoning County team in the second annual 2014 High School Valley All-Star Classic at Eastwood Field Saturday afternoon and led the team from Mahoning County defeat Trumbull County, 7-6, and was crowned game MVP.

“Ending (my senior season) like this, playing with (Felger), takes the sting away from that loss,” Montalbano said. “We’re leaving our high school career on a good note.”

In his MVP-caliber performance, Montalbano reached on a single, double and walk, recorded one run and had two RBIs on the day.

“It’s pretty cool to win MVP and to come out here representing Ursuline and representing the county and play with all these players. I couldn’t have done it without them,” Montalbano said.

After Mahoning scored three runs in the third on three hits and two errors, Trumbull’s bats came alive and broke open the game in the top of the sixth inning. Trumbull teed off on Mahoning, scoring six runs on five hits and two errors. Trumbull batted around their entire lineup in the high-scoring inning.

“After zero, zero, zero zero (on the scoreboard), then to get a nice six up there, that was really nice,” Trumbull and Girard coach Aaron Alejars said. “Unfortunately we followed with a few more zeroes, but it was nice to at least keep the competitive nature.”

Mahoning answered Trumbull’s inning with two more scoring innings of its own in the seventh and eighth.

Mahoning scratched across three runs in the seventh, one of which was a two-run RBI double from Montalbano. Then, in the eighth inning, after Poland’s Chase Knodle got aboard with a shot into center, Austintown Fitch’s Scott Pierce drove in the game-winning run with an RBI double.

The run was enough to win the wild one, but Alejars said there were no winners or losers.

“We were trying to win, but these young men just from talking to them, being selected to be a part of this and graduating high school, they were already winners before they woke up this morning,” Alejars said. “Coming here is like icing on the cake, I mean a day, great facility, great opportunity to compete.”

Despite the loss, Alejars was still honored to meet and coach some of the best baseball players the Mahoning Valley has to offer.

“It was a delight,” Alejars said. “These are great young men from some of the ones I just met a couple hours ago, our area should be so proud. It was just great working with a great group of guys, trying to get them all into the game.”

The all-star game allowed athletes from Mahoning and Trumbull counties to showcase their talents on a big stage and compete one last time wearing their high school baseball caps. Trumbull all-star Jimmy Standohar, who recently graduated from Girard, said having the opportunity to play alongside and against players like Montalbano, whom Standohar played baseball with when he was 13 years old, was a great experience.

“It’s just fun to be on the same field with my old teammates and playing against them, playing with them, and it brings back great memories,” Standohar said. “When you first get here it’s kind of fun, you’re saying ‘Hi’ to everyone, and then it’s kind of like the third or fourth inning, you’re like, ‘OK, we got a game here.’ Any time you get 40, 50 great players together like this, it’s going to be competitive.”

Even though the all-star game is meant to be a fun, once these athletes stepped between the lines, the competitive juices were flowing and the game was on.

“It’s still intense, these kids still want to win, it’s their last high school game and they made it perfectly clear at the beginning that they want to win,” said Mahoning County and Cardinal Mooney coach Al Franceschelli.

Montalbano, though, saw the game a bit differently than his coach.

“It doesn’t really mean anything, it’s an all-star game, just have fun,” Montalbano said. “I woke up today saying, ‘Let’s have some fun today, play with the kids that we love to play with, no hard feelings,” Montalbano said.

“We had fun out here, we’re laughing and joking around and having fun. That’s what baseball’s all about.”