Bethel Park gets past West Allegheny in Class 5A semifinal barnburner

Wednesday, May 22, 2024 | 11:48 PM

Bethel Park proved it had the pitching and defense throughout its WPIAL semifinals playoff game against top-seeded West Allegheny.

However, if you blinked, you may have missed a unique offensive explosion.

The Black Hawks manufactured the go-ahead run in the top of the seventh inning and then held on to defeat the Indians, 7-6, in a highly entertaining game at the W&J Sports Complex on Wednesday evening.

“This is the third time we played them in the semifinals in the last four years, so we know it’s always going to be a slugfest,” Bethel Park coach Patrick Zehnder said. “I have so much respect for Coach (Bryan) Cornell and the program that he runs over there. I’ve stolen a lot from him over the years because when people are that successful for so many years, they are doing something right.”

West A did a lot right in the first two innings to build up a 3-0 lead.

Logan Lambert singled home Brock Cornell in the first inning. Then in the second, Brody Malatak tripled and Jonah Buglak hit an RBI single and scored on a run-producing double by Brady Miller.

“We know we can beat anyone in this league,” Bethel Park junior catcher Ethan Stanhoff said. “We know we’re never out of the game, even down early.”

The tide turned in an amazing top of the third and it turned quickly.

Ryan Tierney was hit by the first pitch and Ryan Petras singled on the second pitch from starter Mason Gass, who was lifted.

In came Ben Kern for West A, and his first pitch hit Stanhoff. Mike Bruckner doubled on the next pitch and a pitch later, Ryan Walsh doubled.

Four runs on six pitches.

Walsh scored on a Joe Levis RBI single to give the Black Hawks the lead, 5-3.

“This is the versatility we have,” Zehnder said. “We have some pop up and down the lineup with guys who are able to barrel up the baseball, and they do such a good job communicating with each other. We’re constantly learning as the game goes so the more we see a pitcher, the better we’ll do.”

Bethel Park added to its lead in the fourth inning when Stanhoff delivered his second hit. Courtesy runner Aaron Hofbauer stole second base, went to third on a wild pitch and scored on another Mike Bruckner hit.

West Allegheny chased BP starter Ryan Walsh after tying the game in the fourth inning.

Miller drove home Kern and Buglar with a bases loaded single, then a sacrifice fly by Wil Gubba scored Cornell to tie the game, 6-6.

Gubba for the Indians and Dylan Schumacher for the Black Hawks came in and took control out of their respective bullpens, bumping the brakes on two offenses that had tallied a dozen runs in four innings.

“He spotted up really well,” Stanhoff said of Schumacher, who picked up the win with two scoreless innings and five strikeouts. “His slider was really good, and he came after hitters with his fastball early and got ahead of the count.”

With Gubba in his third inning of relief for the Indians, the Hawks’ Bruckner picked up his third hit of the game with a leadoff single in the top of the seventh inning.

Walsh walked and pinch hitter Owen White laid down a bunt that was misplayed to load the bases.

Noah Lejeune hit a sacrifice fly to center field that chased home Bruckner and put Bethel Park up by one run.

Dylan Paul came in for the save for Bethel Park, and he retired the first batter before an errant throw put the Derek Curry on first base for West Allegheny.

“I told him to stay within himself,” Stanhoff said as he talked with his pitcher following the fielding miscue. “He’s one of our best pitchers and a great closer. He knows he can get anyone out.”

The game ended when Paul got Lambert to hit into a 6-4-3 double play.

The Black Hawks’ 3-4-5 hitters — Stanhoff, Mike Bruckner and Walsh — were a combined 6 for 9 with five runs scored and five RBIs.

Miller, Malatak and Buglak each has two hits for the Indians, with Miller driving in three.

Bethel Park (15-6) returns to the district title game for the second straight season and for the third time in four years, looking for its first WPIAL baseball crown since 1987.

“My message will be to look up before the game and enjoy this,” Zehnder said. “Don’t get tight. This is why you work so hard all those months, six days a week. Enjoy it, soak it in and remember that baseball is fun.”

The loss ends a seven-game winning streak for West Allegheny (16-4), which will face Franklin Regional on Wednesday at W&J in the 5A consolation game for a berth in the PIAA playoffs.

“We lost to a better team today,” Cornell said. “I don’t think we played our best baseball, but we have something to play for next week. We beat Bethel in the 2022 semis and won the WPIAL championship and Bethel went on to win the state championship. It can be done, and it has to be our goal moving forward.”

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