State championship might be just the beginning for Bethel Park baseball

Saturday, July 3, 2021 | 10:01 AM

Eric Chalus, the winning pitcher in the 2021 PIAA Class 5A championship game, was one of three seniors in Bethel Park’s starting lineup along with center fielder Shane Hamel and first baseman Zack Sackett.

Next season, the Black Hawks will have starters returning at almost every position, starting with pitcher Evan Holewinski, the right-hander who formed the second half of a dynamic one-two punch with Eric Chalus at the top of the team’s pitching staff. Catcher John Chalus, shortstop David Kessler, second baseman Bo Conrad, third baseman Cody Geddes, left fielder Ben Hudson, right fielder Jason Nuttridge and outfielder Ray Altmeyer are also back.

“All I will say about next year is that I am thrilled to get another opportunity to work with some of these great young men,” Bethel Park coach Pat Zehnder said. “We return seven players from the starting batting order from the championship game, but I will definitely miss this amazing group of eight seniors that we are losing and wish them nothing but the best. From what they have showed me throughout this run, I know they will be successful in anything they set their minds and hearts to.”

Kessler was the team’s leading hitter this spring with some gaudy statistics. 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

“I just can’t thank everyone that has helped me along the way enough,” Kessler said. “From my parents and family to my coaches, teammates, trainers, friends and teachers, they’ve all contributed in my life in a positive way whether it was something small or something that greatly impacted me.

“You better believe I’ll be back next year hungrier than ever to bring home (another) championship. It’s definitely hard to expect anything more than what we accomplished this season, but I expect nothing less. We are losing Eric, which is a huge loss, especially on the mound but even in the field and with his bat. That’ll only give us a reason to work harder and get better.”

Nuttridge was one of a trio of sophomores in the starting lineup in the 4-2 win against Red Land, along with John Chalus and Altmeyer at DH.

“The feeling (of winning the state title) is surreal and honestly is crazy,” Nuttridge said. “It was great to see the hard work we put in all season pay off.

“We have been able to celebrate a little as a team. We had a three-hour bus ride home, so that gave us time to blast music and celebrate together. We had police cars and fire trucks escort us back to the school, where our friends, family and community were waiting for our return. Overall, it was an unforgettable experience.”

Holewinski is a slender 6-foot-3, 165-pound hurler who compiled a 6-1 record and 0.50 ERA this season. He averaged a strikeout per inning and allowed only three earned runs all year.

“It was an amazing experience that we had worked for all winter and spring,” Holewinski said following the state tournament, “and we are all ecstatic on the way it turned out.

“We are all looking forward to trying to run it back and win another PIAA championship next year, while picking up a WPIAL championship this time.”

Holewinski said his best pitch may be his changeup.

“I always love going to my changeup for a strike,” he said. “My goal is definitely to become the ace (of the pitching staff) next year, and just developing velocity and sharpening my off-speed pitches will be my goal for the offseason.”

John Chalus was both his brother Eric’s and Holewinski’s batterymate throughout the 2021 championship run.

“It is really a great feeling, especially ending the season with a win,” said the sophomore catcher. “And we’re so happy for the seniors. It is a moment I will never forget in my life.

“My only expectations for next year are to keep working as a team and keep working harder and harder every day.”

The Bethel Park pitching staff posted a 1.62 ERA. The bullpen was led Geddes, a junior, with five saves. Geddes clinched the state title with a clutch relief performance in the seventh inning against Red Land.

Seven members of this year’s staff will be back in 2022. Along with Holewinski and Geddes, they are junior Will Sokira and sophomores Nathan Vargo, Evan LeJeune, Sebastian Schein and Coby Goelz.

“With most of our starting lineup returning and only a few spots to fill, we will definitely need some guys to step up on the pitching side,” Kessler said. “I’m continuing to have high expectations going into next season and so can’t wait for it to start up again.”


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