Monday’s game was Aidan Major’s virtuoso performance
ALTOONA — Only the PIAA-mandated pitch limit could stop Aidan Major. Had it not, Central Mountain and Bethel Park might still be playing right now.
Major walked off the PNG Field dejected Monday, but he left it a champion. He left it after cementing his place among some of this area’s greatest high school pitchers. He left it after nearly willing his team to a historic win.
Major threw eight scoreless innings yesterday, but David Kessler’s triple and ensuing run lifted Bethel Park to a dramatic 1-0, nine-inning Class 5A state semifinal win. The West Virginia-bound senior surrendered just three hits, walked none and silenced a potent offense which had produced 12 runs in its first two state tournament victories.
In a season which included so many masterpieces, this might have been Major’s virtuoso performance. His right arm was a powerful instrument and nearly every note it produced was perfect.
“I just had to keep doing what I’ve done all year and keep battling,” Major said. “We’ve used the slogan ‘Work Wins,’ and that’s all it was. I just had to keep working and keep grinding.”
Three days after throwing 105 pitches in a thrilling 3-2 win against West Allegheny, Major again was untouchable, throwing 76 of his 101 pitches for strikes and not reaching nine balls until the fourth inning. He allowed just three singles, went to a three-ball count twice, struck out six and never let a runner reach third base as Central Mountain (18-6) came so close to reaching its first state championship.
Major grew stronger as the game progressed and topped out at 95 miles per hour in the eighth inning. He also efficiently spotted his curveball, slider and change-up. On the few occasions Bethel Park (21-4) did threaten, Major went to another level and held it without a hit in scoring position in six at-bats.
This was a game where there was absolutely no margin for error Major was absolutely brilliant. He simply would not let his team lose while he was pitching.
Oh yeah, Major also did all that despite enduring a 47-minute, fifth-inning rain delay. Nothing could rattle him. As was the case all season, few could hit him either.
“Everything was working today in any count,” Major said. “Fastball, curveball, slider, changeup … whatever I wanted to throw, whether down in the count or ahead in the count, I was able to do whatever I wanted to do all day.”
“To be able to throw 105 pitches three days ago and to be able to come out and pump it and go the distance today that’s a bulldog right there,” Bethel Park coach Pat Zehnder said. “That’s a guy that’s not going to let his coach not put him on the mound. That’s who you want to pitch in those situations and that’s why he’s’ going to be successful at the next level.”
Major went to another level this season. Last week I wrote about Montgomery pitcher Faith Persing putting together one of the most dominant seasons anybody has enjoyed in the 2000s. Now area baseball has Aidan Major.
The future Mountaineer went 8-1 with a 0.97 ERA and struck out a program-record 109 batters in 65 innings. Even more impressive he allowed only 21 hits. The most hits any team collected against Major was five and he limited all 11 others to three or fewer combining on a no-hitter and twice coming within a strike of throwing no-hitters.
Major had limited preseason work and missed time with COVID. Take away his first start which came right after he returned and Major went 8-0, surrendered 18 hits and struck out 107 in 62 2/3 innings. Those are mind-bending numbers. Those are video-game numbers.
“I couldn’t put anyone above him, that’s for sure,” Zehnder said. “We faced a guy throwing mid-90s a couple weeks ago and faced a lot of really good WPIAL arms, but I couldn’t say that any were above or better than this guy.”
There is no Pennsylvania high school version of the Cy Young, but Major certainly would be in the running if there was. And if it included the postseason, he might be a run-away winner. The bigger the games, the better Major was. The more pressure heaped upon him, the more Major liked it.
Major went 4-0 this postseason, allowing just two runs, no earned runs and only seven hits in 30 2/3 innings while striking out 39. It almost does not seem possible to be that good at this time of year, but Major always seemed to be wearing a big red ‘S’ underneath his jersey. In this reporter’s 22 years on the job only Montoursville’s Ryan Miller and Loyalsock’s Kyle Datres were this ridiculously good throughout the playoffs and that is pretty rare air.
Major is a tremendous leader, an unselfish player who always was quick to compliment his teammates and/or redirect praise their way. But he also is a fighter and as upset as he was about losing, Major understands he can always look in the mirror and know he did everything possible to help his team reach the state final.
“This is the state playoffs with the best 16 teams in the state,” Major said. “For me to be able to put those numbers up against some really good teams, against some of the best hitting teams in the state is something I definitely take pride in and will take with me the rest of my career.”
Like Roy Hobbs’ father tells him early in the “The Natural,” Major was born with a gift. Still, there’s a lot of players blessed with similar gifts who never find out how good they could be or could have been. Major does the opposite. He is a blue-collar worker who maximizes every bit as potential he has.
What Major did yesterday, and this year was amazing, but it was not an accident. His teammates, school and supporters witnessed the finished product, but this was one produced through countless hours honing his skills when nobody was watching.
“He’s the kind of guy who trains, prepares and does arm care all year. He’s doing it on the offseason to get ready for these moments,” Central Mountain coach Mike Kramer said. “That’s why he was able to go out and do what he did today. Aidan was going to do whatever it took for us to win.”
There are so many ways to describe Major. At his core he is a winner and a fighter. He can throw hard, spin the ball and seemingly spot it anywhere. What separates Major, though, what made him one of Pennsylvania’s best pitchers and what makes him such an exciting college prospect goes beyond his arm.
That X-factor beats strong inside his chest and could carry Major a long way. It certainly did at Central Mountain.
“He’s definitely up there with the best we’ve had. He’s matured so much over the years,” Kramer said. “I just love what he does and love him as a person. I admire how much he has grown. He’s going to do great things in his life, and I look forward to watching him and tracking him as he goes on.”
Chris Masse covers high school baseball and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @docmasse.