Bethel Park shortstop David Kessler loves baseball. After two rain delays and nine innings, though, he just wanted the Black Hawks’ PIAA semifinal game against Central Mountain to be over.
So, Kessler ended it.
With one out in the bottom of the ninth, he lined a pitch into right field that eluded a diving Cade McCloskey and rolled to the wall. Kessler touched all the bases, including home plate, for the decisive run in a 1-0 victory at PNG Field in Altoona.
“After I hit the ball, when I was coming down first base, I saw the right fielder lay out,” Kessler said. “He made a heck of a try but I happened to get a lucky bounce for me. It went to the wall and I figured I would at least go three. Then I looked back and saw they missed the cut. So I headed home.
“I was definitely going to make a hard turn on third because I wanted to score,” he added of the triple he hit that was followed by a throwing error that allowed him to score. “It was a heck of a game that Central Mountain put up but I was ready for it to be over on our side.”
BP head coach Patrick Zehnder said that it was one of the best games that he had ever been a part of as a player or a coach.
“This team is so resilient,” Zehnder noted, particularly of the Black Hawks’ ability to weather two rain delays.
The start of the contest was postponed for 40 minutes. The other stoppage lasted 50 minutes with one out in the bottom of the fifth inning.
“There were a lot of situations that we were in this game where we did not have any business winning and there were situations where the other team didn’t have any business winning,” Zehnder said. “But these guys stayed level headed. That is why they are so special.”
The win over District 6 champion Central Mountain (18-6) moved the Black Hawks (21-4) to the state finals for the first time in 32 years. Bethel Park played District 3 champion Red Land (25-4) in the PIAA final June 17 at Penn State.
Bethel Park was particularly special defensively against Central Mountain.
Jason Nuttridge made two circus catches in right field to thwart the Wildcats in the seventh and ninth innings. They had advanced runners to third base in both innings.
Eric Chalus had two critical grabs in the gaps in centerfield in the sixth and eighth innings.
“We have relied on our defense all year,” Zehnder said. “Jason and Eric made some great plays. There were a lot of run-saving plays made on both sides.”
Kessler made to sparking plays in the field as well. The junior shortstop combined with Zack Sackett for the final putout that ended Central Mountain’s scoring threat in the second. The Wildcats had put the lead-off hitters on base with singles. After getting the force at third and a pop-up to first, Kessler ended the threat.
In the eighth, Kessler caught Central Mountain pitcher Aidan Major in a rundown. In the ninth, the Wildcats put two runners on base with two outs when Kessler raced to end the inning, making a grab on a ball hit by Gabe Johnson.
“That’s who David is,” Zehnder said. “I can’t say enough about him and the defensive plays that he made, particularly the one that ended the inning before his hit. That was a fair ball and he came out of nowhere to make the catch.”
Bethel Park’s Cody Geddes came from third base to relieve starter Evan Holewinski.
Holewinski threw seven innings, striking out five and scattering four hits. In two innings, Geddes earned the win on the mound while allowing three hits.
“Geddes has been our closer all year,” Zehnder said. “He arguably has the best stuff of any of our pitchers, which is saying something. He’s been relishing that role all year. I was just as confident in him to get those outs as I was Evan.”
Zehnder said his pitchers relied on their fielders behind them.
“Our pitchers know that they can pound the strike zone because they have faith in our defense backing them up,” he said.
“We walked maybe two guys all season because not only do we have faith in our pitchers but faith in our good defense to make the plays behind them. Boy did they do that (against Central Mountain).”
Major kept the Black Hawk bats at bay before he yielded to Central Mountain reliever Chase Brush, who pitched 11/3 innings. A West Virginia recruit, Major scattered three hits – a pair of singles to Bo Conrad and a safety squeeze to Geddes in the seventh. He struck out five and did not walk a batter.
“(Major) has an unbelievable arm. He’s going to be successful at the next level,” Zehnder said.
“The other guys did well too. That’s a great team over there. We just lucked out. We hit a ball well the other way and things fell for us in the end.”