Defending baseball champ Bethel Park looks formidable

Saturday, March 26, 2022 | 11:01 AM

Bethel Park won the big prize in Class 5A last season, defeating Red Land, 4-2, in the PIAA baseball championship game at Penn State’s Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.

“Words still cannot express the pride I feel for this special group of young men,” coach Pat Zehnder said afterward. “They worked so hard during practices and games and battled through so many tough situations to accomplish our ultimate goal.

“We used pretty much the same formula that led us through the rest of the playoffs in the victory versus Red Land: great pitching, good defense and the hitting doing enough to put us over the top.”

Bethel Park finished 22-4, starting 4-0 and later stringing together a 10-game winning streak, taking the Section 4 crown with a 10-0 record.

Franklin Regional edged Bethel Park, 2-1, in the WPIAL championship game June 1 at Wild Things Park in Washington.

The Black Hawks then defeated District 3 runner-up Northern York, 5-1; District 11 champion Southern Lehigh, 7-2; and District 6 champion Central Mountain, 1-0 in nine innings, to reach the state finals.

“Our expectations are still the same as every season,” Zehnder said. “We have a goal of first winning the section, then making the playoffs and winning WPIAL and PIAA championships. The guys all understand this is a new season and that we will have to climb back to the mountaintop one step at a time.

“I expect the players to work as a cohesive unit like they did last year. Each individual needs to make positive contributions to the team no matter what their role is on a given day, and the group needs to ensure that the quality of the work they put in matches their high expectations and goals for the season.”

The Black Hawks have starters returning at almost every position, starting with pitcher Evan Holewinski, a right-handed junior who, with then-senior Eric Chalus formed a dynamic one-two punch at the top of the rotation.

Chalus, the winning pitcher in the state championship game, was one of three seniors in the lineup a year ago along with Shane Hamel (CF) and Zack Sackett (1B).

Along with Holewinski, seniors David Kessler (SS), Bo Conrad (2B), Cody Geddes (3B) and Ben Hudson (OF), and juniors Jason Nuttridge (OF), John Chalus (C) and Ray Altmeyer (OF) are back.

“Our defense looks to continue to be a strength for us,” Zehnder said.

Nuttridge, Chalus and Altmeyer (DH) started in the state championship game as sophomores last year.

“We are fortunate to have eight experienced hitters back from our lineup last year that look to show their improvements from the offseason,” Zehnder said. “We will be led on and off the field by our seniors, David Kessler, Cody Geddes, Bo Conrad, Ben Hudson, (outfielder) Dylan Schmude and (pitcher) Will Sokira.

“We are looking for consistent offensive output this year with many of our hitters returning. They will use their experience but also understand that adjustments will need to be made throughout the season.”

Kessler was the team’s leading hitter last spring. He finished with a .458 batting average, .547 on-base percentage, .653 slugging percentage, four doubles, two triples, two home runs, 47 total bases, 29 RBIs, 27 runs scored and 10 stolen bases.

Several players will provide ample depth behind the group of returning starters, including juniors Coby Goelz (IF), Lucas Lybarger (OF) and Nick Calano (C/3B), sophomore Santino Diulus (OF) and freshman Ryan Petras (IF/OF).

Holewinski is a tall, slender junior who compiled a 6-1 record and 0.50 ERA last season. He averaged a strikeout per inning and allowed only three earned runs all season.

“My early prediction for this year is nothing shy of what we did last year,” Holewinski said. “We have gained confidence and experience over the past year along with developing in so many facets. We know it is a long road ahead to where we want to go, but we all believe we have what it takes.

“We want to do what we did last year and accomplish more this year. Specifically, we want to bring home the WPIAL plaque. We always say we hate losing more than we like winning, so that WPIAL championship (game) is definitely still resonating with us.”

Holewinski is an early Kent State commit who plans to major in business or finance. He has a 4.3 GPA and is a member of the National Honor Society and DECA, a marketing program at the high school.

Chalus was both his brother Eric’s and Holewinski’s batterymate throughout the championship run.

Bethel Park’s pitching staff posted a 1.62 ERA, and the bullpen was led by Geddes with five saves. Geddes clinched the state title with a clutch seventh-inning relief performance against Red Land.

Geddes will focus on playing third base this season.

“He has some arm issues right now,” Zehnder said. “I hope he can get healthy by the end of the year and help us out like he did last year, but I will not put him out there unless I know he is back to 100%.”

Several members of last year’s pitching staff are back in 2022. Along with Holewinski, they include Sokira, and juniors Nathan Vargo, Evan LeJeune and Sebastian Schein.

“Our pitching corps will start with Evan Holewinski, who did a great job as our No. 2 starter last year in his first year of high school baseball,” Zehnder said. “Evan had one of the best seasons in Bethel Park history — most likely the best ever — not allowing a walk or an earned run in 30 (regular-season) innings.

“Nathan Vargo, Sebastian Schein, Evan LeJeune, Will Sokira, (junior) Nick Gasper and (freshman) Ryan Walsh will provide depth. We need to rebuild pitching depth and establish new roles for starters and relievers.”

Additional pitching depth will be supplied by junior Josh Clunan and sophomores Jack Edner and Diulus.

Lybarger, Calano, Gasper and Clunan are newcomers to varsity team.


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