2021 Trib HSSN Baseball Player of the Year: Eric Chalus, Bethel Park

Friday, July 2, 2021 | 4:00 PM

2021 HSSN Baseball Player of the Year

Eric Chalus

School: Bethel Park

Class: Senior

Bethel Park’s Eric Chalus is rather stoic on the mound, rarely showing emotion after a batter strikes out or walks. But after throwing the final pitch of his high school career, an inning-ending strike in the state finals, he let loose.

His teammates went wild with him.

Moments earlier, their situation had seemed dire. There were Red Land runners on second and third, no outs and Bethel Park led by only two runs in the top of the sixth inning. But Chalus escaped the jam with a weak groundout and two strikeouts, a game-saving moment as the Black Hawks went on to win the PIAA Class 5A title.

Chalus stomped off the Penn State mound in celebration.

“You could really see him explode with emotion after that inning,” Bethel Park coach Patrick Zehnder said. “That’s something he’s never really done before. But he knew that was the last pitch of his career. He just got out of that jam.

“You could see all of the emotions finally come to the surface on someone who’s usually a calm, cool, collected cat.”

The win in the state championship raised Chalus’ record to a perfect 11-0 with a 0.97 ERA and 91 strikeouts in 72 innings. The 6-foot-2 left-hander walked only four batters all year.

Chalus also batted .386 with 23 RBIs and played center field when not on the mound. He occupied the second spot in Bethel Park’s championship batting order and his courtesy runner scored the game’s first run.

“In our team awards, he was almost unanimous chosen as the most competitive guy on the team — which is one of the biggest awards we can give,” Zehnder said. “He has a combination of just insane God-given talent but also a high baseball IQ and an elite competitive drive.”

That combination makes Chalus the 2021 TribLive HSSN Baseball Player of the Year.

Can you describe what you were feeling after you won the state championship?

It just seemed fake, like not real at all. Your body is just numb. After that dogpile, it’s hard to get up. You can’t feel anything. You could get punched in the face — punched anywhere — and you would not feel it until the next day.

You spent the seventh inning in center field (after reaching the pitch limit), so you had a long run to that celebration in the infield. Was that maybe the fastest you’ve run?

That had to be the fastest. The outfielders, we have a little celebration we do. It’s an alley-oop, dunk and high-five. They were saying, let’s do it, let’s do it. I half did it and then sprinted.

The team in the other dugout, Red Land, was the reigning PIAA champion and has a senior expected to be picked in the first round of the MLB Draft. Does that add to the win?

It made the winning much sweeter, knowing two guys on that team — the Nos. 1 and 2 hitters — could get drafted this year or in the near future. And even the rest of the lineup is good. They’re hard to face. Not one of them gave in at all. That made it much sweeter.

Have you watched a replay of the game?

That night my dad had it on. I was like, “We were just there!” But after a few days, we watched the whole game. We sat down and talked about it. It was cool.

You escaped jams in the fourth and fifth innings. Your coach credits your competitive nature. What’s going through your head in those moments?

I knew if they hit the ball, they were tying or going ahead. I don’t like losing, so I tried to do whatever I could. My mindset was, don’t give them anything good to hit. They were hitting everything (over the plate). No matter what, they were getting a piece of it. So I tried to paint the corners. And it was super easy to throw wherever I wanted because my brother (catcher John Chalus) can block any ball.

How does it help having a catcher in the house?

In quarantine me, him and my dad would drive up to Millennium Park. We’d wake up, have breakfast and go there. We’d hit, throw, pitch. There was no one there ever, so it was like our own facility.

What pitches do you throw in games?

I throw fastball — four seam and two seam — curveball and change-up. I’m working more on the change-up. I threw it more last week (during summer baseball) and it’s working pretty good. I have a good feel for that now.

Are there any new pitches you’re working on?

I want to add a slider. I have a little slider that I throw once in a while. Adding pitches make the hitters think more.

As a pitcher who can hit, which feels better: Striking out the side or driving in a run?

I have to say striking out the side. Walking off the mound after a strikeout, seeing them just miss or strike out looking, that’s more satisfying that bringing in a run.

What drew you to Kent State?

As soon as I stepped foot on campus, it was so welcoming. All of the students I saw, the players and the coaches. They have a good program, and they have the best pitching coach in the country.

Kent State pitching coach Mike Birkbeck came to Penn State to watch you pitch in the state finals. Was he one reason you’re going there?

Yes, for sure. He lets pitchers develop, learn about the game and sends you on your way.

If you were stranded on an island, what three things would you want with you?

My glove, some water and maybe a monkey for company.

What are your three favorite meals?

I’d like some tacos, steak and hamburgers — pretty traditional foods.

If your team had a talent show, who wins?

David Kessler. He loves this one “Pitch Perfect” song. He sang it on the bus twice. He’s a singer and likes performing. He’s not shy.

What would be your talent?

I can juggle a little. So can my dad and my brother.

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .


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