Clutch pitching carries Bethel Park past star-studded Red Land to PIAA baseball title

Thursday, June 17, 2021 | 7:59 PM

UNIVERSITY PARK — Red Land has a future MLB first-rounder batting leadoff and some ex-Little League World Series stars behind him. So, Bethel Park staked its title hopes on an old adage that good pitching beats good hitting.

In the state finals, the Black Hawks proved that’s still true.

Bethel Park starter Eric Chalus escaped jams in the fifth and sixth innings, and closer Cody Geddes solved a dire dilemma in the seventh to defeat Red Land, 4-2, in the PIAA Class 5A championship Thursday at Penn State.

The state title was the second for Bethel Park (22-4) and its first since 1988, but it didn’t come easy.

“Each of the last two innings, you had the tying run at second base with no outs,” Bethel Park coach Pat Zehnder said. “Against a team like this, I’m sure they come through 99 times out of a 100. … Credit goes out to the pitchers.”

With no outs in the seventh, Red Land star Benny Montgomery was on third base and teammate Cole Wagner was on second after a double off the right field fence. Bethel Park’s lead was in peril until Geddes forced a groundout to third, a strikeout and a game-inning grounder to second to escape.

Geddes’ magic rivaled some of Chalus’ earlier escape acts.

“Before I threw the next pitch (after Wagner’s double), I stepped off the rubber, took a deep breath and looked at the infield and outfield,” Geddes said. “They all just gave me the nod, and I just went on from there.”

Montgomery, a Virginia recruit, is projected to be a first-round draft pick next month. Wagner, a Little League World Series star in 2015, is headed to Georgia. They were trying to earn their second state title after winning in 2019.

Instead, for much of the afternoon, Chalus kept them in check.

A left-hander headed to Kent State, Chalus battled Red Land for six innings and 107 pitches. He allowed two runs on seven hits, walked two and struck out six. The Black Hawks gave him a first-inning lead, and Chalus kept them ahead.

“My approach was just to throw it on the corners,” Chalus said. “Try not to give them anything good to hit. Throw it outside. Throw them off with off-speed. And just pitch.

“Don’t think. Throw.”

Chalus also contributed with his bat.

In the first, he reached base on a fielding error, David Kessler singled and Geddes followed with a two-run triple. Geddes later scored on an RBI groundout by Zachary Sackett to give Bethel Park a 3-0 lead. An RBI single by Kessler in the second stretched the Black Hawks’ lead to four.

“To put up a crooked number in the first inning with your ace on the mound, that really helps provide some confidence,” Zehnder said. “Even though we know Eric Chalus is really good, they’re going to get their runs.”

Red Land pushed across one run in the third, scored by Wagner, and one in the fifth by Montgomery. Wagner went 2 for 3 with two doubles and an RBI. Montgomery went 1 for 4 but reached base three times.

Chalus stranded four baserunners in the first three innings, but his best work came late in his outing.

“He made pitches when he had to and we didn’t,” Red Land coach Nate Ebbert said. “They had that big first inning, and held onto it. But we had opportunities.”

With one out in the fifth and two Red Land runners on, Chalus fielded a hard-hit bouncer back to the mound, pivoted toward second and started an inning-ending double play.

“It wasn’t fun, that’s for sure,” Chalus said. “But I have a lot of trust in our defense. We take a lot of pride in our defense.”

In the sixth, Red Land had runners on second and third with one out before Chalus struck out the final two batters to escape again.

“Eric Chalus shows up for the biggest games against the biggest competition,” Zehnder said, “and today was no different.”

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


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