Senior class leaves unprecedented mark on Bethel Park baseball program

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Saturday, July 22, 2023 | 11:01 AM


It was a tremendous three-year run for the Bethel Park baseball program, particularly for the seniors on the 2023 club.

There were 14 upperclassmen — count ‘em, 14 — on the 2023 team, including seven or eight who usually were penciled into the starting lineup.

Over the past three seasons, the Black Hawks advanced to the PIAA Class 5A playoffs three times and won two state championships. They finished as the WPIAL runner-up twice, a semifinalist once, won two section titles and ended up second in section play in 2022.

“The 14 seniors have left a legacy of being one of — if not the most — decorated senior classes in the history of Bethel Park baseball,” coach Pat Zehnder said. “Two PIAA golds and two WPIAL silvers are more than what some entire programs have accomplished.

“The legacy they leave is more than just their success. They leave a legacy of the work, attitude, camaraderie and competitive stamina it takes to earn success and do something even harder than that, maintain success when you are already everyone’s target.”

Bethel Park has won four section titles in the past five seasons that have been played. The Black Hawks were section champions in Class 6A in 2018 and 2019.

This year, Bethel Park rebounded from a 10-1 loss to WPIAL champion Shaler with an 8-2 win against Mechanicsburg in the PIAA first round, then dropped a 3-1 decision to Monsignor Bonner-Prendergast in the quarterfinals.

The team’s starting lineup this year typically consisted of senior Evan Holewinski (P/OF), senior John Chalus (C), senior Nathan Vargo (1B), senior Gianni Magnotti (2B), sophomore Ryan Petras (SS), senior Nick Calano (3B), senior Ray Altmeyer (LF), senior Jason Nuttridge (CF), freshman Michael Bruckner (3B/OF), senior Coby Goelz (DH/1B) and senior Lucas Lybarger (DH/OF).

“It was one heck of a high school career,” Chalus said. “It truly feels like I lived every high school athlete’s dream. The friendships and lifetime memories will never be forgotten. I couldn’t thank the coaches enough.”

The batting order against Shaler in the WPIAL Class 5A final was comprised of Petras (SS), Chalus (C), Holewinski (P), Altmeyer (LF), Goelz (1B), Lybarger (DH), Nuttridge (CF), Bruckner (3B) and Magnotti (2B).

“Ray Altmeyer was a middle-of-the-lineup hitter for our team each of his three years on varsity,” Zehnder said. “He was an important power bat from the left side and worked extremely hard to improve his defense to become a very good outfielder for us his senior season.

“He also has been a leader for our team this and last season. As one of the captains this year, he didn’t have the best start to the season offensively, but you would never have known that with how he talked with other players and how he continued being such an impressive leader. I will remember that about Ray more than any of the big hits he had for us over his career.”

Altmeyer relished his time with the Black Hawks, beginning with his sophomore season.

“My experience being a Hawk was unlike other high schoolers around us,” Altmeyer said. “I was put on a loaded varsity roster my sophomore year, and I had no idea the potential of the squad we had. I thought that’s what every high school team was like. So, we won the first state title and I soon learned the bar for this program.

“I went into the second year with even higher expectations and we shot for the same goal — with an even more experienced team — and we absolutely dominated in almost every sector.”

Altmeyer watched and learned from the team’s captains as a sophomore and junior, utilizing that experience in his senior season.

Altmeyer, Holewinski and Chalus served as co-captains in 2023.

“My third year was most special in a different way,” Altmeyer said. “The captains in my first two years were amazing, so I tried to do the same for my guys. Coaching and competing with the young fellas was so special to me, and I tried to give them an even better experience than what I received.”

“But what it came down to was our skipper, Coach Z. He was just great. He never took a day off, always made sure we had enough reps and kept us up when we were down. He was a huge factor of why my high school career was so special. Next step is possibly coming back a few years down the road in a new position in the Bethel baseball program.”

Upperclassmen on the squad who helped out in reserve roles this season included seniors Evan Lejeune (P/IF), Sebastian Schein (P/IF), Kevin Sharp (IF/OF), Nick Gasper (P/OF) and Josh Clunan (IF).

All 14 seniors plan to continue either their athletic or academic careers, or both, in college.

Eight are slated to play collegiate baseball. Altmeyer and John Chalus will remain teammates at Mercyhurst while Gasper and Sharp will play at Saint Vincent.

The others looking to extend their athletic careers are Holewinski (Kent State), Nuttridge (Cal Pa.), Vargo (Charleston, W. Va.), Calano (Pitt-Johnstown), for baseball, and Goelz (Case Western), for football.

The remaining five seniors on the 2023 club also have made their higher education choices: Clunan (Air Force), Lejeune (West Virginia), Lybarger (Slippery Rock), Schein (South Carolina) and Magnotti (carpentry union).

The stalwart on the pitching staff the last two years was Holewinski, a right-handed hurler who will join former Bethel Park teammate Eric Chalus at Kent State. Chalus is a sophomore pitcher for the Golden Tornado and older brother of John Chalus.

Holewinski was a two-time Trib HSSN Terrific 10 selection. He displayed his hitting skills in 2023 with a .440 batting average, eight home runs and 38 RBIs.

On the mound, he was 4-2 with a 0.96 ERA with 59 strikeouts in 58.1 innings. Holewinski logged a 10-0 record and 0.60 ERA last season along with a .417 batting average.

Holewinski was lauded as the Trib HSSN Player of the Week in helping lead the Black Hawks to wins over Upper St. Clair and Penn-Trafford in this year’s WPIAL quarterfinals and semifinals.

“Now that it is finally settling in that my Bethel Park career is over, I could not be more appreciative for these years,” Holewinski said, “whether it was the community rallying behind us or our coaching staff putting in relentless work for us day in and day out and teaching us what it took to win.

“We always say, ‘We hate losing more than we like winning.’ It was an honor to be part of such a remarkable stretch by this team, and I’m proud to say we have etched our names in history. This is a group of guys I will remember forever.”

Schein finished with a 6-1 record and two saves with a 2.19 ERA in 2023.

“Sebastian was our fireman (in relief) all year,” Zehnder said. “If there was a tough spot that we needed to get out of immediately, we would turn to Schein and he always seemed to find ways to come through for us.

“He led our team in wins, which shows how tough many of our games were in that we didn’t pull ahead until the second half of the game. The moment was never too big for him, and he embraced that role of putting out fires for us. Whenever we would get close to being in a tough situation, I would look around for Schein. When I couldn’t find him in the dugout, that was because he was already warming up since he sensed his moment was getting close.”

Lejeune and junior Jack Edner also were leading performers on the Black Hawks’ pitching staff.

“A great candidate for our ‘unsung hero’ was Evan Lejeune,” Zehnder said. “Due to some injuries, he was elevated to our No. 2 pitcher position and did a fantastic job in that role. He would oftentimes go against the other team’s No. 1 starter because they would try to stagger their ace away from Holewinski, and (Lejeune) was never intimidated.

“I probably took him out earlier than he deserved multiple times, but he understood we had a plan for those games. He was such a great teammate and energizer for the other guys.”

Since the blacked-out 2020 covid season, Bethel Park has gone 61-14 overall, posting impressive 22-4, 21-4 and 18-6 records.

The Black Hawks won 27 of 30 league games, were 44-10 (15-3, 14-3, 15-4) against regular-season opponents and went 16-4 in the postseason, including back-to-back 7-1 records in 2021 and 2022.

Some of the instrumental players returning in 2024 include Petras (SS), Bruckner (IF/OF) and sophomores C/IF Noah Lejuene, Dylan Schumacher (P/OF), Ryan Walsh (P/OF), Jack Bruckner (IF/OF), Ethan Stanhoff (C/IF) and Dylan Paul (P/IF).

“While I haven’t fully digested this year yet, especially the ending, I’m very excited for next season,” Zehnder said. “We have a lot of positions open, which makes for energetic offseason workouts.

“The pipeline remains strong at Bethel Park, so whoever earns spots will be very good at baseball and have beaten out a good player in their own right.”

Two of the underclassmen, Petras (Northwestern) and Walsh (Penn State), already have made college commitments.

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