There were no future Major League Baseball draft picks in Bethel Park’s starting lineup when the Black Hawks stepped onto Medlar Field at Lubrano Park on the Penn State University campus to face Red Land June 17 in the PIAA Class 5A championship game.
But Bethel Park played like pros in defeating the defending state champions, 4-2, to capture its second PIAA title in school history, and its first since 1988.
The Black Hawks (22-4) scored all of their runs in the first two innings and held off the Patriots (25-5), who advanced two runners to scoring position with no outs in both the sixth and seventh innings. The Patriots also saw an uprising in the fifth squelched by an inning-ending double play.
“Our hearts were beating so hard,” said BP head coach Patrick Zehnder of his coaching staff, “but my guys are so mentally tough, so mature. They can be in tough situations but it doesn’t seem to affect them. They just have so much faith in each other to come through in those situations.”
Bethel Park put its hopes in Eric Chalus on the mound. He was tasked with stopping a Red Land team that boasted Benny Montgomery and Cole Wagner. A Virginia recruit, Montgomery is projected to be selected in the first round of the MLB amateur draft. A Georgia recruit, Wagner is a former Little League World Series star.
In six innings, Chalus scattered seven hits, struck out six and walked three batters, one more than he had allowed all season. He threw 109 pitches en route to picking up his 11th win of 2021.
“He’s a bulldog,” Zehnder said. “To have that much talent and to have that much mental toughness and that much grit and determination is just such a rarity.
“I think he knew maybe he didn’t have his best stuff but he is not going to let that bother him,” Zehnder added. “He’s still going to go out there and throw it right at them and force them to see if they can hit the ball somewhere.”
Wagner hit doubles in the fifth and seventh innings. He scored a run in the second and drove in a run in the fifth inning.
In the sixth, Chalus walked the lead-off batter Brady Ebbert before Braden Kolmansberger hit a high-chopper over third putting runners at third and second. Chalus tagged out the next batter, who hit a ball weakly along the first base line then struck out the next hitters to end the inning and his outing.
“(Red Land) is a really good offensive team and a really good team overall,” Zehnder said. “They got their hits, but Chalus went out and did his thing. He pounds the zone and has faith in his defense. He understands that even when it’s not his best day he’s still good enough to get outs.”
Cody Geddes got the final outs in relief of Chalus, but not without drama. Montgomery was hit by a pitch before Wagner doubled. Evan Holewinski, who filled in at third when Geddes moved to the mound, made a nice defensive stop to hold the runner before getting the out at first. Geddes struck out the next batter. A ground out to second baseman Bo Conrad ended the game.
“Obviously, they are not thrilled when we get into less than optimal situations but there are never heads down,” said Zehnder. “The body language is good and they still are going to give all they’ve got to make the plays. It all worked out.”
Geddes also worked well at the plate. He tagged a two-run triple, scoring Chalus and David Kessler in the first inning.
“The pitch was a slider,” Geddes said. “He hung it and I just took advantage of that.”
Geddes scored on Zachary Sackett’s ground out to first to complete the three-run inning.
BP tacked on its fourth run in the second inning. After back-to-back base hits by Jason Nuttridge and Ben Hudson, Kessler’s ground out to first drove home the run.
“When we had the lead, I knew we were not done yet,” Geddes said. “We still had to compete. We picked it back up and finished it.
“Every single one of these guys right here will all have each other’s back. They will always be competing. We will always push each other.”
Red Land pitcher Kaden Peifer held BP hitless after the second inning. He scattered five hits, and struck out one, on 63 pitches. The Patriots committed two errors behind Peifer.