Seniors leave championship legacy with Bethel Park baseball program

Saturday, July 23, 2022 | 9:01 AM

The seniors on the 2022 Bethel Park championship baseball team enjoyed tremendous success in their varsity careers.

The Black Hawks captured back-to-back PIAA titles in 2021-2022 after finishing second and third in WPIAL Class 5A.

In 2022, Bethel Park was 14-3 in the regular season, took second place in section play with an 8-2 mark, won seven of eight postseason games and racked up a 21-4 overall record.

Two years ago, the Black Hawks were 15-3 in the regular season, won the section title with a 10-0 mark, went 7-1 in the postseason and ended up 22-4.

Bethel Park impressively racked up a 43-8 record over the past two years, was 29-6 in the regular season, 18-2 in Section 4, 14-2 in playoff contests and won the two state championships.

“The seniors deserved nothing less than to end their high school careers with a win on the biggest stage,” Bethel Park coach Pat Zehnder said, “and I am forever grateful for their leadership and impact they will have on this team for years to come.

“They have left Bethel Park baseball in a better spot than when they entered the program, which is a testament to their great work, character and leadership displayed over their four years in the program. They can use the experience, success and perseverance they showed throughout their baseball careers in their future lives, and I am sure they will be successful in whatever they strive for. Their story will be told for many years to come to present and future Hawks, and they have left a blueprint for future teams to follow to maximize their chances of success.”

The six seniors — David Kessler (SS), Bo Conrad (2B), Ben Hudson (OF), Dylan Schmude (OF), Will Sokira (P) and Cody Geddes (P/3B) — are not finished playing baseball. Each plans to continue his career at the collegiate level.

“I know that all six will make immediate positive impacts on their teams in college regardless of their role,” Zehnder said. “The character, work ethic, leadership and perseverance they showed throughout their high school careers will serve them well for the rest of their lives. They have helped to establish a blueprint for success by showing how selflessness and camaraderie are just as important — if not more — than talent.”

Kessler will play at IUP, Conrad will be going to Marietta, Hudson and Schmude will remain teammates at Saint Vincent, and Sokira will play at Chatham.

Kessler graduated with a 4.2 GPA and a resume that includes several impressive postseason honors.

“I am extremely excited to say that I am a two-time baseball state champion,” Kessler said. “My high school career has been everything I wished for. I have two state titles, two section titles, a WPIAL second-place finish, two first-team all-section awards, and it was all backed up by my teammate’ grit and determination. And all the coaches in the Bethel Park baseball program were amazing.

“At IUP, I will go straight in to compete for a starting spot anywhere. I just want to be in the lineup and play. Ultimately, I will strive to be the starting shortstop by the spring of my freshman year. When I took my visit to IUP, I already felt a strong connection to the campus and knew that this would be my home for the next four years. I was also blown away by the coaching staff. Their knowledge about the game was incredible. Kyle Nicholson, who was my coach at Bethel Park, went to coach there after we won the first state championship, and that easily played a big role in making my decision.”

Geddes, who was lauded as the player of the game in both PIAA finals, had planned to compete on the diamond at Penn State Greater Allegheny but recently changed his mind and continues to weigh his options.

“I plan to take a gap year as of now and keep my options open to go play baseball somewhere,” Geddes said. “I want to thank everyone that has been a part of my journey so far, not just in life but in my athletic and academic careers.

“I can’t wait to be able to come back each year and talk to the upcoming kids and tell them how much it means to the community when you can win a state championship, or even a WPIAL championship.”

Geddes led the club offensively this year 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.

“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.”

Kessler served as a team captain as a junior and senior. He 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.

“Going into the season, we all knew we had a shot at our ultimate goal, being state champions,” Kessler said. “Throughout our journey, we had many stoppages, more than last year, for sure. We didn’t win the section or a WPIAL title, but in the end, those were all just little barriers that helped us excel to compete and win the state title.

“This season was amazing and just as good as the last. I will say that our hitting this year was a lot more productive. Still, if we didn’t hit, I have no doubt our pitching and defense would back that up. It was phenomenal.”

Hudson batted .360 and was the team leader in RBIs with 23. Schmude hit .338 while Conrad chipped in with a .324 average.

Zehnder, the Black Hawks’ coach, is batting 1.000 as field boss. He has coached the team for three seasons, but the first was canceled due to the pandemic. In his two years of game action, he has guided Bethel Park to two PIAA titles.

“I am so proud of this group of players and thankful to be able to work with them and such great coaches,” Zehnder said. “Coaches Jared King and Tyler Dillinger have been an important part of the team’s success. I can’t thank them enough for jumping on this year and making immediate positive impacts on me and the players.

“Kyle Nicholson’s and Joe Ranalli’s impact last year and years prior helped build these players into who they are today and taught me so much, as well. The program Tony Fisher built before us paved the way for the current success.”

Zehnder was an assistant at Bethel Park for a handful of seasons prior to being hired as head coach.

“The students, players, faculty, administration and families have been nothing but supportive and kind to me here,” he said. “I am blessed to be able to teach and coach in such a great district and community.”


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