Bethel Park turns PIAA double play with back-to-back championships

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Saturday, June 25, 2022 | 11:01 AM


The similarities are uncanny.

Bethel Park advanced to the PIAA Class 5A championship game in 2022 for the second consecutive season.

And for the second straight time, the Black Hawks played for the title June 17 at Penn State’s Medlar Field. The opening pitch both years was scheduled for 4:30 p.m.

Bethel Park defeated District 3 champion Red Land, 4-2, last year to finish 22-4. This year, the Black Hawks and junior Evan Holewinski blanked District 4 champ Selinsgrove (23-3) by a 5-0 score to end up 21-4 overall.

Bethel Park compiled a 7-1 mark in both the 2021 and 2022 postseasons with its only loss in the WPIAL playoffs. The Black Hawks lost their final regular-season game both years, snapping impressive winning streaks both times.

“This team definitely has some similarities to last year’s team,” Bethel Park coach Pat Zehnder said. “Not only because we were fortunate to return seven starters from last year, but also because of the camaraderie, togetherness and toughness the team displayed on this run. No situation was too big for them, and they understood they needed to control what they could control.

“I am so proud of this group of players and coaches. They’ve worked so hard and put so much into the program. From fall ball, to winter workouts, to the spring season, they all worked extremely hard to continue to improve and raise our level of play in order to have a chance to climb the mountain again. It doesn’t always work out, but it has been a joy to see these guys end their seasons with a win two years in a row.”

Just as it did a season ago, Bethel Park regrouped following a tough district playoff defeat. After losing to West Allegheny, 3-0, in the WPIAL semifinals, the Black Hawks won their consolation game and first two state playoff contests by a combined score of 17-3.

“It hurt to not get a chance to compete against a great Peters Township team again, but West Allegheny is also a great team and got the best of us in the semi,” Zehnder said. “The guys were down for a day but came back with great practices and a mature outlook that the ultimate mountaintop was still in reach. They were able to play their best baseball when we needed it the most. Credit to the great leadership on this team that was able to rally the guys and motivate them to continue working.”

In the PIAA first round, Cody Geddes collected two hits and two RBIs and scored the winning run on a wild pitch in the seventh inning of a 4-3 win over District 6 champion Central Mountain. Geddes also was the winning pitcher in relief.

A senior pitcher/third baseman, Geddes went 3 for 4 with a home run, two RBIs and two runs scored against Selinsgrove and was named Trib HSSN Baseball Player of the Week. A year ago, he keyed Bethel Park’s championship win with a two-run triple.

“Cody was one of the best players in the state,” Zehnder said. “He batted over .400 all year and produced great power numbers. He maintained such a high level of play all year and was able to raise his level even higher when we needed it the most.

“Cody was outstanding in the playoffs both last year and this year. From producing big hits and driving runs in or setting the table by getting on base for the guys around him, Cody was constantly producing offensively for his team. He also was clutch on the mound in shutting down teams at the end of games in getting the most difficult three outs of the game. He earned a few wins in relief this and last postseason.”

Geddes led the club this season with a .425 batting average, .483 on-base percentage and .738 slugging percentage. He also had nine doubles, two triples, four home runs, 21 RBIs and 25 runs scored.

“The team’s performance this year was out of this world,” Geddes said. “We had each others’ backs all the time and were always having fun no matter what we were doing.

“It is incredible to have made it to two state championships and win both of them. My career was amazing because the memories that I’ve made with each team and the coaches are great to have.”

Here is another similarity between Bethel Park’s two championship seasons: A year ago, the Black Hawks captured the Class 5A state title behind pitcher Eric Chalus, now a freshman starter at Kent State. Holewinski, a junior pitcher/infielder, also is a Kent State commit.

This season, the right-handed Holewinski posted a remarkable 10-0 record and 0.60 ERA, allowing 29 hits and five earned runs in 58 innings and logging 57 strikeouts with 11 walks. Offensively, he had a .417 batting average.

“Evan is a fantastic player and leader on the team,” Zehnder said. “He excelled all season long. He is so consistent in his work ethic, demeanor, attitude and performance. It is amazing to see someone his age handle himself like he does.

“And he doesn’t just rely on his talent. He has an elite baseball IQ, work ethic and outlook on the game. He showed again in the biggest game of the season why he is our ace and one of the best pitchers in the state. He is so efficient and can throw all pitches for strikes. He is not afraid to pound the strike zone and hitters are forced to swing earlier in counts at his pitches as a result.”

Holewinski tossed a three-hit shutout against Selinsgrove, striking out five and walking none. He needed only 76 pitches in the complete-game outing.

“Considering the high stakes, I have to say that was probably my best performance of my career,” he said. “Having the entire community behind me and my teammates definitely doesn’t go unnoticed and played a big part in my performance.

“This team has been through so many ups and downs this season and to see us peak during the playoffs is exactly what we’ve been preaching all year. Every player, coach and trainer contributed in so many ways to our success.”

Holewinski, like Geddes, was lauded as a Trib HSSN Baseball Player of the Week.

Four of the seniors on this year’s club — Geddes, shortstop David Kessler, second baseman Bo Conrad and left fielder Ben Hudson — plus four juniors — Holewinski, catcher John Chalus and outfielders Jason Nuttridge and Ray Altmeyer — were returning starters.

Senior Dylan Schmude (CF), junior Nathan Vargo (1B) and freshman Ryan Petras (RF) joined the starting lineup in 2022. Altmeyer was the team’s DH in the PIAA final.

“Jason Nuttridge was a consistent starter for us all year and provided great defense and energy to the lineup,” Zehnder said. “Juniors Lucas Lybarger and Coby Goelz also had big pinch hits for the team.”

Seven members of last year’s pitching staff were back in ‘22. Along with Holewinski and Geddes, they were senior Will Sokira and juniors Evan LeJeune, Sebastian Schein, Vargo and Goelz.

The returning hurlers were joined on the staff by freshman Ryan Walsh, junior Nick Gasper and sophomore Jack Edner. Vargo and Walsh recorded three wins apiece this season.

“David Kessler, Bo Conrad and Evan Holewinski were our captains,” Zehnder said, “and did an amazing job leading the rest of the guys and being good outlets for the coaching staff to be proactive in maintaining team chemistry.

“David was a captain his junior and senior years and was our top dog this year. The players looked to him on how to act in times of stress, and his steadiness and grace helped keep the team focused and driven when we needed it the most.”

Kessler hit .354 this season and led the squad in home runs (5), runs scored (25) and stolen bases (13). He also drove in 22 runs and racked up a .671 slugging percentage.

Bethel Park hit .336 as a group as Kessler, Hudson (.360), Altmeyer (.351), Schmude (.338), Chalus (.333) and Conrad (.324) all finished in the .300 club.

Hudson was the team leader in RBIs with 23 and also punched out a .613 slugging percentage. Altmeyer had 20 RBIs.

And don’t count the Black Hawks out just yet in 2023.

There were 13 juniors on the varsity roster this spring along with two sophomores and two freshmen. They couldn’t have had a better learning experience on the diamond than how they were schooled in 2022.

Petras, the team’s leadoff hitter as a freshman outfielder, went 4 for 4 in helping eliminate West Allegheny in the state tournament. He fanned only twice in 39 plate appearances this season.

And Walsh, the team’s other top freshman, was a key hurler for the Black Hawks.

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