Bethel Park baseball continues program’s tradition of deep postseason runs

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Saturday, June 22, 2024 | 10:22 AM


Bethel Park advanced to the WPIAL Class 5A baseball championship round riding a five-game winning streak and with a 9-2 record in the second half of the regular season.

Penn-Trafford, the Black Hawks’ opponent, strung together a 13-game winning streak this season and had won 17 of its last 19 contests.

P-T prevailed with a 4-3 win May 28 at Wild Things Park in Washington to earn its first WPIAL baseball title in school history.

“We were playing our best baseball at the most important time leading up to and throughout the WPIAL playoffs,” Bethel Park coach Pat Zehnder said. “The team was able to get an early lead and add on in the quarterfinals against Trinity, and then in a back-and-forth game against West Allegheny in the semifinals, the team showed the resiliency and fortitude that it takes to get to and win a championship game.

“The players handled the two-hour delay well for the WPIAL championship game and came out ready to play. Other than one half inning, they played great baseball. We just could not get that one hit with runners on base that they were able to do the previous few weeks.”

Bethel Park rolled past to District 3 champion Mechanicsburg, 11-1, in the PIAA first round June 3 at Memorial Park in Mechanicsburg. The Wildcats finished with a 19-4 record.

Bethel Park’s starting lineup against Penn-Trafford in the WPIAL final consisted of senior Ryan Tierney (CF), junior Ryan Petras (SS), junior Ethan Stanhoff (C), sophomore Mike Bruckner (3B), junior Ryan Walsh (LF), junior Dylan Paul (DH), junior Noah LeJeune (1B), senior Santino Diulus (P) and junior Jack Bruckner (RF). Kaden Flambard, a senior, played second base.

“First, I would like to say that I am proud to call these guys my teammates and friends,” Diulus said. “We have had some ups and downs this season. At the beginning of the season, we were struggling to get the bats around. We had a hit here and there but couldn’t string multiple hits together. As the season continues, we have been progressively getting better. Even though we are in a good place right now, we still have more to show. In terms of our defense, I believe that has been our strong suit; it is clear by the way we show it.

“Despite our loss (in the WPIAL finals), I thought we played a very good game. Not many mistakes were made, and we were staying consistent as a whole. Pitching, hitting and fielding were all on point. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out, and that was the case against Penn-Trafford.”

During the WPIAL season, Petras, a Northwestern recruit, led the club in hitting with a .469 batting average and .594 slugging percentage, as well as total bases (38), doubles (5) and stolen bases (18).

Other leading hitters included Stanhoff (.383), Paul (.367), Tierney (.343) and Mike Bruckner (.310). Paul and Bruckner tied for the team lead in RBIs with 19 apiece; Tierney scored a team-high 26 runs. On defense, Bruckner did not commit an error all season.

LeJuene hit .293 and belted a team-best four home runs. He also finished with a .569 slugging percentage.

Diulus was the ace of the pitching staff, logging a 6-1 record and 1.31 ERA. He racked up 47 strikeouts in 48 innings and allowed only nine earned runs.

Walsh posted a 2-1 record and 2.70 ERA, striking out 44 in 36 1/3 frames. Dylan Schumacher and Mike Brucker had three wins apiece while Paul was 1-0 with three saves.

“The WPIAL championship was a fun game to be a part of but, unfortunately, we did not come out on top,” Walsh said. “I was very proud of our team with the way we handled it. Santino pitched great, as usual. Ethan and Ryan had very big hits. We just couldn’t find the big hit when we needed it late in the game. We will definitely keep this game in the back of our heads and learn from it.

“We had seven new bats in the lineup this year. Nobody expected us to be a top team except for the people in our dugout. We all knew we could achieve our goals of winning section, WPIAL and state championships. We succeeded in our first goal, and we earned our way into the WPIAL championship but couldn’t pull it off.”

Petras (IF), Tierney (OF), Stanhoff (C) and Diulus (P) were first-team all-section selections this year. LeJeune (IF) and Jack Bruckner (OF) were named to the second team.

“I’m extremely proud of how the guys developed throughout this season,” Zehnder said. “They’ve worked so hard in practice and have great attitudes and camaraderie that allows them to handle adversity that comes their way.

“With so many new faces and new roles throughout the lineup, no one gave us a chance to get as far as we did in the WPIAL.”

LeJeune said the Black Hawks had a great 2024 season.

“Our team has done great this year,” he said. “We all work together so well. We have grown a lot from the beginning of this season for a lot of the team being inexperienced and having basically a new starting lineup for the exception of two players.”

Bethel Park baseball has been on quite a run since the 2020 covid season.

Over the past four years, the Black Hawks have eclipsed 20 wins twice, captured three section titles and finished second once, won 34 of 40 section games thanks to 10-0, 8-2, 9-1 and 7-3 records, advanced to the WPIAL semifinals four times and finals three times, compiled a 76-21-2 overall record and won back-to-back PIAA crowns in 2021 and 2022.

Bethel Park beat Selinsgrove, 5-0, in the PIAA finals in 2022 and Red Land, 4-2, in 2021. Both games were held at Penn State. The Black Hawks also won a state championship in 1988.

“I think we really came around as a team,” Petras said. “The first couple weeks of the season were slow, but the team really developed and has grown a lot together. This is a special group; it is a tight family.

“My goal for every year is just to try to grow as a player and ultimately help the team in any way possible. I believe I achieved that this year.”

Bethel Park landed the No. 4 seed and a first-round bye for the WPIAL playoffs, then defeated No. 12 Trinity, 11-1, in the quarterfinals and No. 1 West Allegheny, 7-6, in the semifinals.

Stanhoff and Paul drove in three runs apiece and Mike Bruckner knocked in a pair against Trinity. Diulus allowed one run and struck out seven in six innings.

Stanhoff, Mike Bruckner and Walsh were a combined 6 for 9 with five RBIs against West Allegheny.

“Our coaching staff does a great job at maximizing our team’s potential,” Walsh said. “We have a ton of depth, and we’ve used all of it — from (Aaron) Hofbauer pinch running, (Joey) Levis and (Isaac) Wojton as late-game defensive substitutions, and (Owen) White coming in to bunt in the most important spot of the year.”

Bethel Park ended its WPIAL season with a 15-7-1 record.

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