Strong pitching, clutch hitting bolsters Bethel Park baseball

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Saturday, May 8, 2021 | 9:01 AM


Bethel Park’s baseball squad ended the month of April with an exclamation point.

The Black Hawks blanked Upper St. Clair, 6-0; Fox Chapel, 5-0; and Connellsville, 13-0, to improve to 6-0 in Section 4-5A and 10-2 overall.

The team’s pitching staff posted a boat-load of zeroes and had a 1.72 ERA.

Through 31 innings, Eric Chalus had five wins and surrendered only three earned runs (0.68 ERA) and one walk (plus one hit batter) while striking out 42.

Evan Holewinski chalked up four victories thanks to a sparkling 0.00 ERA in 23 innings. He did not issue a walk (but hit two batters).

“The pitching staff has been outstanding, pounding the strike zone with all their pitches and keeping teams off-balance,” coach Pat Zehnder said. “We shut out opponents in our last three games (in April). Our pitching coach, Kyle Nicholson, has done a great job. Cody Geddes (two saves) has been very effective closing out games. And Nathan Vargo is impressing in both starting and relief roles.”

After posting a 2-0 shutout May 1 against Connellsville, Bethel Park stood at 11-2 and held a lopsided 84-23 scoring advantage.

The Black Hawks averaged close to seven runs per game through April.

“Our hitters are battling at the plate and refusing to strike out in big situations,” Zehnder said. “We are starting to get hits on hard balls that were hit right at people earlier in the year.”

Bethel Park’s leading hitter was junior shortstop David Kessler, with a .537 batting average, .756 slugging percentage, two home runs, 18 RBIs, 14 runs scored and 10 stolen bases.

“I could not ask for a better start to the season with such a great group of guys,” Kessler said, “and we continue to get better each and every day. Whether it’s a light practice to tune up some mechanics or a harder practice with a higher intensity, I see everyone continuing to get better.

“We have such a solid team from our infield and outfield to our entire pitching staff. I’m so confident in all the guys we have; we can put anyone in the game and still compete.”

Kessler was a multi-sport athlete through his freshman year, competing in baseball, football, volleyball and basketball. His focus now is entirely on baseball, which he began playing at age 4.

“My season is going great so far and I hope to continue,” Kessler said. “I couldn’t ask for a better team to be with to experience my junior season. My expectations are certainly high for this team.

“I think we aren’t just trying to make the playoffs but to make a run deep into the playoffs, and even into states. The best way to do that, in my opinion, is to focus on the present rather than the future.”

Kessler, who has a 4.22 GPA, started in the outfield as a freshman before switching to shortstop. One of his personal goals is to be voted to the all-section team.

“Since my freshman year when I learned about the all-conference awards, I have been working hard to achieve one of them,” he said. “That will be my goal for the next two years. If I end up being selected, that would be awesome. But if I don’t, it would be OK. I am more focused on my team’s success and how far we can make it.”

Chalus (.343), Jason Nuttridge and Bo Conrad all were hitting in the .300 range for the Black Hawks this season, while Cody Geddes contributed with a .500 slugging percentage and some clutch RBIs.

“The coaches are extremely proud of this group for the way they have practiced and performed so far,” Zehnder said. “The team continues to jell together and support one another. The experienced players have done a great job setting the example and leading in practice and during games. The younger players have met big moments with confidence and composure. The captains have helped create great team camaraderie and raised the overall practice and play level.

“There’s still a long way to go in the season and a lot of room for improvement, but the guys are trending in a good direction right now.”

The Black Hawks, ranked No. 2 in Class 5A in the Trib HSSN baseball rankings, ended April with five consecutive wins, then kicked off this month by whitewashing Connellsville.

“We had four straight shutouts with four different starting pitchers,” Zehnder said.

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