Sunday, June 27, 2021 | 11:01
The basis of a state championship high baseball team is an outstanding pitching corps, the pace of a strong one-two strokes.
The club also needs solid, clutching.
Defensively, it must be steady.
All are facets coordinated by a dedicated coaching staff.
Bethel Park’s baseball team ticked all the boxes to win their second PIAA title in the school’s history.
The Black Hawks defeated Red Land, 4-2, in the Class 5A final on July 17 at Medlar Field in Lubrano Park on the Penn State campus.
“Words still cannot express the pride I feel for this special group of young men,” said coach Pat Zehnder. “They worked so hard during exercises and games and fought through so many tough situations to achieve our ultimate goal.
“We used pretty much the same formula that led us through the rest of the playoffs in the win against Red Land: Great pitching, good defense and hitting enough to put us over the top. Red Land is extremely well rounded and well coached, and we knew we were in for a great test. ”
Bethel Park finished with a dazzling 22-4 record after going 4-0 in the PIAA tournament and 7-1 in the record season.
The Black Hawks started 4-0 this spring and later rolled out a 10-game winning streak, taking section 4 10-0.
Bethel Park, as WPIAL runner-up, defeated District 3 runner-up Northern York, 5-1; District 11 champion Southern Lehigh, 7-2; and District 6 champion Central Mountain, 1-0 in nine innings, to reach the state finals.
“Our pitching and defense were outstanding in every playoff game,” Zehnder said. “Throughout the eight playoff games, our defense allowed no more than two races in any game. There is no doubt that we were able to go on this run. Thanks to our pitching coach, Kyle Nicholson, and the pitching staff for keeping us in every game.
“Our offense was not as big as they did in the regular season, but we met eight straight playoff aces, so that obviously makes it harder. We still managed to find a way to scrape enough races over to win matches.
“This team was so mentally tough and kept finding different ways to win matches by coming from behind, scratching over the only race scored during the match, getting off it, (experiencing) rain delays and extra innings, and maintaining an early management. The experience we gained from so many close games and clutch situations helped to give us confidence in those moments in the final. ”
Red Land (25-5) took a winning streak of 13 games into the championship game.
The Patriots, from Lewisburry and with two potential MLB Draft picks in the lineup – Virginia recruits Benny Montgomery (OF) and Georgia recruits Cole Wagner (1B / DH) – was the defending champion in 5A thanks to an 8-3 win over Lampeter – Strasburg in 2019.
This was Bethel Park’s fifth appearance in the state baseball final. The Black Hawks won the PIAA Class 3A title in 1988 and finished second in 1985, ’87 and ’03.
Senior Eric Chalus, a 6-foot-1 left-handed thrower on his way to Kent State, finished with a perfect 11-0 record.
“We played a very good baseball team in the state championship in Penn State,” said Chalus. “It was action-packed and went down to the cord. The whole team contributed in one way or another to win the trophy.
“The atmosphere that was shown in that park was insane. It was so loud, and the tallest were the fans of Red Land. Their student section called out to me along with teammates and tried to get us out of our game. It gave us more than anything. They helped us.
“It was just a surreal moment in my life with the baseball program. We talked about winning states all the way back in February. It was a dream come true to bring back a championship trophy to high school. The last game keeps playing in my head. ”
One of WPIAL’s top scorers, Chalus threw 107 places over six innings against Red Land, allowing two runs on seven hits while hitting six and issuing two innings.
“Eric fought against one of the most talented lineups in the state,” said Zehnder, “keeping a team below its offensive standard by hitting the bank in the zone and keeping riders in balance. I can not express enough how great it was for Eric to complete his high school career by winning the state championship after being this team’s horse for four years. ”
Chalus avoided scoring threats in the fifth and sixth innings, as did Bethel Park closer to Cody Geddes at the top of the seventh.
The Patriots had runners on second and third with no outs in the final lap. Geddes, a junior right-hander who moved over from his third base position in the defense, closed the next three strokes to retrieve the title.
“I will never forget the feeling that came over me when the last exit was made,” said Zehnder, who was assisted by Nicholson and Joe Ranalli. “Then it clicked on the team how much this race meant to society. We were escorted back to Bethel Park by an armada of first responders’ vehicles, with sirens blowing.
“When we finally got back to high school, there was a large group of people there to greet the team cheering as the players got off the bus with the trophy. The appearance of the players when they saw the huge group waiting to celebrate is another thing I will not forget. ”
Pike had a two-run triple in the first half. Senior first baseman Zack Sackett and junior shortstop David Kessler added RBI to make it 4-0 at the end of two.
Kessler was the Black Hawks’ leading hit in 2021 with a stroke average of .458, 0.653 slugging, 29 RBI, 27 points and 10 stolen bases.
“It was amazing, the celebration after the final,” Kessler said. “I thought in awe of myself, ‘I can not believe we just did this.’ After jumping around and celebrating, I was afraid to check my phone because I knew it was already exploding.
“Another great thing was about 25 or 30 minutes from getting back to high school, a good family friend of ours, Mr. (Jules) Caye, to happen to be sheriff, and he gave us a police expert home. As we got closer to the Galleria, there were fire trucks waiting to notice. When we got back to high school, we were greeted by the community as we got off the bus.
“I stayed in high school for about two more hours to celebrate with friends. It was a fantastic time from the final until I went to bed. I will never forget this in my life. ”
Bethel Park slo. 312 as a team this season and surpassed opponents 159-59, with an average of 6.1 runs per game.
Chalus hit .400 with 23 RBI, while the team’s .300 hitters included Geddes (.353), senior OF Shane Hamel (.333), Sackett (.310), junior 2B Bo Conrad (.300) and junior OF Ben Hudson (. 300). Sophomores John Chalus (C), Ray Altmeyer (DH / OF) and Jason Nuttridge (OF) chipped in with .296, .281 and .267 respectively.
The versatile Sackett started at first base against Red Land. He is also a catcher and outfielder.
“Winning the championship will be something I will never forget,” said Sackett. “We went through a lot of adversity just by trying to get there.”
Along with Eric Chalus and junior righty Evan Holewinski, sophomore Nathan Vargo (2), Geddes and seniors Dan DelBene (1) and Josh Peters (1) were victorious this season.
Sophomores Evan LeJeune, Sebastian Schein and Colby Goelz, senior Jimmy Gasper and junior Will Sokira rounded out the BP pitching corps.
Other squad members included seniors Larry Kusan (OF) and Sawyer D’Andrea (C / INF) and junior Dylan Schmude (OF).
Bethel Park’s pitching staff put out a combined 1.62 ERA with 10 shutouts, gave up just 41 earned runs and found 186 strokes in 177.2 innings.
Zehnder noted some of the key components of a state championship baseball squad.
“First and foremost, the players have to support each other,” Zehnder said. “There are so many tough situations and mistakes in baseball, so the players have to feel supported by each other. They have to be mentally tough. How you handle failure and the tough situations determine how consistently you can maintain success.
“You have to have good pitching. There’s no way to get through the WPIAL schedule and playoffs with a pitcher. You need at least three or four great arms to get you through close and intense games. Great defense and timely hits would be the other pieces in that puzzle. ”
And a little luck also helps.
“Sometimes you need a bounce to go your way at certain moments,” Zehnder said. “There are a lot of great teams that do all the right things, and sometimes things just don’t work out for one reason or another.
“We are grateful for how difficult it is to achieve this feat, and I am so proud of this great group of young men.”
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