Future 1st-round MLB Draft pick awaits Bethel Park in PIAA final vs. Red Land

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Wednesday, June 16, 2021 | 1:40 PM


At around 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Bethel Park pitcher Eric Chalus will take the mound for the PIAA Class 5A championship at Penn State’s Medlar Field and face Red Land’s leadoff hitter.

That idea alone has him excited.

The fact that Red Land’s leadoff hitter is a projected first-round MLB Draft pick will only add to the excitement, said Chalus, a talented left-hander bound for Kent State.

Red Land senior Benny Montgomery, a 6-foot-4, 195-pound center fielder committed to Virginia, could be chosen among the first 15 picks in the draft July 11. The latest MLB.com mock draft has him going 13th overall to the Philadelphia Phillies.

“He is a great player. I’ve heard a lot of good things about him,” Chalus said. “But he’s just another high school player. He’s going out there to compete, and so are we.”

A right-handed hitter, Montgomery is batting .426 with seven home runs, 22 RBIs and 44 runs. He’s only walked 18 times in 117 plate appearances. But as the leadoff hitter, and with a Georgia recruit batting second, it’s harder to pitch around him.

Chalus doesn’t intend to pitch around him.

At 6-foot-2 with a good velocity and multiple pitches, Chalus is one of the WPIAL’s top pitchers. He’s 10-0 this season with 85 strikeouts in 66 innings. His ERA, adjusted for seven-inning games, is 0.85.

“Eric is such a competitor,” Bethel Park coach Patrick Zehnder said. “He’s already so pumped for that matchup. The kids were kind of joking around with him today, asking if he was going to strike him out like he did Austin (Hendrick).”

Hendrick, a former West Allegheny star, was a first-round MLB Draft pick last summer.

“Freshman year I walked him,” Chalus said of Hendrick. “Sophomore year I got back at him. I struck him out. … When you’re very well known, they have more pressure on them than I do on me.”

Bethel Park (21-4) has reached the state finals for the fifth time overall and first since 2003. The Black Hawks won the PIAA Class 3A title in 1988 and were the state runners-up in 1985, ’87 and ’03, when 3A was the big-school classification.

They reached this year’s finals in dramatic fashion, with a 1-0, nine-inning win over District 6 champion Central Mountain in the semifinals.

Now, Bethel Park draws the reigning state champion. Red Land (25-4), a District 3 team from Lewisberry, won the PIAA Class 5A title in 2019. Spring sports were canceled last school year during the pandemic, so Red Land remains the defending state champion.

Zehnder searched out information on Red Land and hoped to find some video clips online of the top hitters.

The two teams were part of a first-round doubleheader near York. With a long drive home ahead, Bethel Park didn’t stick around to watch the game. But it was easy to spot Montgomery in warmups.

“He had the size and look of either a high-level Division I player or a guy that looks the look to be drafted,” Zehnder said.

Baseball America ranks Montgomery as the 22nd-best prospect in this year’s draft class, praising his athleticism, tools and physical upside.

“Montgomery’s bat speed ranks among the best in the class,” according to Baseball America’s analysis, adding that he has “cleaned up his swing some since last year, doing a better job of staying back and keeping his front hip closed.

“He’s still a long-armed hitter with a hitch in his swing, with a lack of timing and balance that add risks to his hitting ability and cut into his ability to translate his power in games. But the minute Montgomery signs, he will be one of the toolsiest players in his organization.”

The top two batters in Red Land’s order have accounted for a large part of the team’s offense. First baseman Cole Wagner, the Georgia recruit, is batting .341 with 31 RBIs and 36 runs. Wagner was the star of Red Land’s 2015 Little League World Series team that lost to Japan in the finals.

Current Red Land players Ethan Phillips (No. 3 batter), Kaden Peifer (fourth) and Braden Kolmansberger (sixth) also also were on that LLWS team. Combined, Red Land batters have hit 17 home runs this spring. Bethel Park has four.

“They have some talent, that’s for sure,” Zehnder said. “You have two draft picks on your team, one supposedly going in the Top 15, and from everything we’ve heard about them, they’re the real deal.

“It will be interesting to see what they have, but I always think good pitching has the upper hand over good hitting, so I like our chances.”

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

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