Bethel Park baseball faces adversity, comes through with solid season

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Saturday, June 24, 2023 | 11:34 AM


It didn’t end with a state championship celebration like the previous two seasons did, but Bethel Park’s baseball team was able to boast of a strong 2023.

The Black Hawks soared to first place in Section 2-5A with a 9-1 record, won 13 of 14 games prior to the WPIAL playoffs and ended the regular season with a 15-4 record after a 2-3 start.

“I’m extremely proud of this group. We entered the year with numerous players out or in different roles because of injury, and guys stepped up to fill those roles,” coach Pat Zehnder said. “The depth of the team was continually tested, and this group showed the ability to beat very good teams while using 15-plus players and often three-plus pitchers in those games.

“Every team on our schedule other than one was a playoff team. That is a tough schedule that will test a team in many different ways. The way these guys interacted and stuck together through all the adversity a season brings enabled them to win so many close games. While we didn’t reach the ultimate goal, every player can look back and be proud of the climb and the efforts they took to work toward those goals. I’m very thankful to work with such a great group of coaches and kids.”

Bethel Park lost a 10-1 decision to Shaler in the WPIAL finals but rebounded with an 8-2 victory in 10 innings against Mechanicsburg in the PIAA tournament.

The Black Hawks then lost to Monsignor Bonner-Prendergast, 3-1, in the quarterfinals to end up 18-6 overall.

“While it is absolutely disappointing to lose a championship game,” Zehnder said, “once most of the sting of that goes away — and some never does — you can look back and be proud of the efforts it took to even get to that point.”

The centerpiece for Bethel Park was senior pitcher Evan Holewinski, a Kent State recruit who finished with a 4-2 record, 0.96 ERA and 59 strikeouts over 58.1 innings.

Holewinski allowed only eight earned runs all year. He also hit a team-leading .440 with an .867 slugging percentage and .506 on-base percentage. He led the club in home runs (8), total bases (65) and RBIs (38).

“We definitely came out the gate slow,” Holewinski said, “but we knew we were going to grow. All season, younger guys gained experience and confidence to provide what we needed come playoff time.

“We grew as a team and played very well in the section. We gave ourselves a great shot at winning the WPIAL by capturing the two seed.”

Holewinski posted a 10-0 record with a 0.60 ERA last season to go along with his .417 batting average.

Zehnder described Holewinski as “one of the best players, pitching and hitting, in the state.”

Holewinski, John Chalus, a senior catcher, and Ray Altmeyer, a senior outfielder, served as co-captains in 2023.

“They were not only three of the best players, they were also three of the best leaders and hardest workers,” Zehnder said. “When that is the case, there is no reason for anyone else to do anything less. Their leadership is as much a reason for our success this year as anything else.

“The entire group of seniors did a great job leading the way and showing future Hawks how they can give themselves the greatest chance to succeed before, during and after they step on the field.”

Chalus hit .313 this season with a .400 slugging percentage, .389 on-base percentage and 16 RBIs. He batted .333 and drove in 15 runs as a junior.

Zehnder said Chalus is “the best defensive catcher I have seen at the high school level.”

Chalus talked about the “sting” of losing in the WPIAL finals.

“I think we played very well as a team in getting to the championship and obviously the championship game just wasn’t our day,” Chalus said. “We treat every game like it’s our last so we, for sure, didn’t take the game lightly. It just wasn’t meant to be.

“Regardless, we were a very strong and good team.”

Altmeyer started in left field for the Black Hawks and finished fifth on the team in hitting.

“I’m really proud of my guys with how they performed this season,” Altemeyer said. “Going 9-1 in the section is something we are proud of. I have to give credit to the new teams in our section; they challenged us significantly.

“Although we really wanted a WPIAL title, things got away from us that game. We regrouped and turned it around with a win at Mechanicsburg with their whole town at the game. This team flat-out knows how to handle adversity.”

While Holewinski already had established himself as an elite pitcher, senior Sebastian Schein emerged as one of the top hurlers in the WPIAL as well.

Schein compiled a 6-1 record with two saves and a 2.19 ERA in 22.1 innings of work.

Two players combined for another six wins for the Black Hawks: junior Jack Edner (3-0, 2.33 ERA) and senior Evan Lejeune (3-1, 2.73 ERA).

Santino Diulus, a junior, and Dylan Schumacher, a sophomore, tacked on one victory apiece.

As a group, Bethel Park’s pitching staff logged a 2.21 ERA and allowed only 132 hits in 177.1 innings while fanning 163.

Offensively, the Black Hawks hit a collective .293 with 11 home runs, .403 slugging percentage and .385 on-base percentage.

One of the team’s bright young stars is sophomore shortstop Ryan Petras, who racked up a .427 batting average, .549 slugging percentage and .495 on-base percentage. Petras led the squad in stolen bases (19) and runs scored (26).

Other contributors offensively included senior DH/outfielder Lucas Lybarger with a .304 batting average, .418 on-base percentage and .413 slugging percentage, senior first baseman Coby Goelz, senior center fielder Jason Nuttridge, senior second baseman Gianni Magnotti and freshman P/IF/OF Michael Bruckner, another bright young star on the team.

Senior IF/OF Kevin Sharp saw action as a pinch hitter against Shaler. Sophomore pitcher Ryan Walsh and Schein tossed an inning apiece in relief. Altmeyer tripled in the fifth inning against the Titans and scored on a wild pitch.

Bethel Park defeated Upper St. Clair, 6-0, and Penn-Trafford, 8-5, in the first two rounds of the WPIAL playoffs before the loss to Shaler.

“We have three main goals every season; to win the section, win the WPIAL and win the state,” Holewinski said. “Obviously falling short of one of those goals is a heartbreaker, especially when it’s a championship.”

“The loss (to Shaler) definitely stung the most of them all. We won 15 of our last 16 leading up to the WPIAL final, so losing that one makes us take a step back and realize we are beatable, and we need to play our best baseball.”

The Bethel Park baseball program has established an outstanding legacy for itself.

The Black Hawks have advanced to the playoffs eight straight years and in 11 of the last 12. They’ve finished first or second 10 times in 12 seasons with six section titles.

The Hawks haven’t experienced a losing baseball season since 2010.

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