Monday, June 6, 2011

Keystone grads finish careers in county for exhibition game

AVON — Keystone graduates Jessica Burt and Sarah Stromack went on different paths after high school. However, timing and a little fate allowed them to play together one final time.

The duo, which was on the Wildcats 2006 state championship team, got a chance of a lifetime playing against the National Professional Fastptich Akron Racers in an exhibition series as members of the Ohio Collegiate All-Star team.

The series finale took place at All Pro Freight Stadium. Though the Racers won the game 14-2, the experience for the two players was a memory for the ages.

“It was a great opportunity to get a chance to put your jersey back on, get a few more at-bats and a chance to play against professionals.” Burt said. “A lot of these girls are ones who I have looked up to throughout my career. It was a fun experience to get to play against them.”

It helped that the former Keystone teammates were also playing with other players they have seen over the years.

“It’s always fun to play with people you have played with before,” Burt said. “There were quite a few girls from this team I have played travel ball with. It was a fun experience to get back together with the girls I have known and get to know the ones I have been playing against.”

The Racers, who won all three exhibition games, took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second inning only to see the All-Stars rally to tie the game in bottom half of the inning on DeDe Justice’s single to center to score Olivia Hegedus.

The Racers broke the game open with four runs in each of the third and fourth innings.Taylor Schlopy, who was drafted this season out of the University of Georgia, went 3-of-5 with three runs. Getting a chance to get play before the start of the regular season was beneficial to her.

“I think it has been a great experience so far,” Schlopy said. “I think these two games have really helped me feel comfortable personally because I am just coming out of college.”

Though neither Keystone player was able to get on base in this game, both played solid defensive. Burt, in her center field position, handled a couple of fly balls flawlessly and showed her arm strength which helped her during her career at Cleveland State University.

Stromack, who played at the University of Akron and started at catcher, was moved to the outfield. Though she never has played the position, she made a nice sliding catch to end the top of the sixth inning and prevent the Racers from tacking on another run.

“It was a shock,” Stromack said. “I always have played the infield. I decided I might as well as go to the outfield just to play. I can still catch a play. It was just a little more territory, but I’m not use to running. But that’s OK.”

Stromack did get a hit in the series, but it was a memory from a camp which made this game even more special.

Going to a camp in Cleveland which featured Crystl Bustos, the duo got to see the cream of the crop up close. Bustos, who played for the Akron Racers in 2005, has also won two gold medals. Stromack remembers the camp and having the hope of one day playing against them. When she got the chance, the moment was also too much.

“At first it was overwhelming and exciting, but I am really glad I did it,” Stromack said. “I really do look up to most of them on the team. They are very classy individuals and very sportsman-like. To actually get a chance to play against people we have looked up to for so long was fun.”

Stromack also had the pleasure of playing against one of her former coaches. Carla Brookbank-Schaal was a coach during Stromack’s freshman season.

When Burt and Stromack walked off the high school field for the last time; it was done as champions. Walking off the field as team mates one last time and playing against a team of professionals makes them champions again in its own way. It is something they will talk about in the years to come.

“I thought it was very fitting that we started in Lorain County together and we get to end it in Lorain County,” Stromack said.

courtesy of SCOTT SOMMERS

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