Venezuelan star leads Shaler to dominant win over Bethel Park in WPIAL Class 5A finals

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Tuesday, May 30, 2023 | 9:54 PM


Miguel Hugas sparked a championship celebration in Shaler Township, but the star senior was sure he’d hear from some happy baseball fans in Venezuela too.

Hugas struck out eight in a dominant complete game, and top-seeded Shaler provided him more than enough run support to defeat No. 2 Bethel Park, 10-1, Tuesday night in the WPIAL Class 5A final at Wild Things Park.

The 6-foot-3 right-hander threw a five-hitter with only one walk. He didn’t allow a baserunner until the fourth inning, and by then, Shaler already had a seven-run lead.

“He was amazing,” Shaler coach Brian Junker said, “but I’m not surprised.”

Hugas was unfamiliar with WPIAL baseball before moving here in 2021 from Venezuela, but winning a league title quickly became his mission.

Shaler (19-4) lost in the WPIAL quarterfinals in 2021 and ’22, but the Titans put together a memorable postseason run this spring. They outscored their three playoff opponents, 23-2.

The WPIAL title was the team’s sixth overall and second in five years.

“Incredible,” Hugas said. “We’ve wanted it since two years ago when I first got here. We couldn’t get it (then), but this year we got it.”

The Alabama recruit improved to 9-0 with a sub-1.00 ERA.

There were hundreds of Shaler fans among the crowd in Washington, but Hugas also was eager to talk with the team’s international supporters, including his mom, dad, sister and others in Venezuela.

“I think they were watching the game,” he said, “so I’m going to call them whenever I get to the bus.”

The WPIAL title was the second for Junker, who also won in 2019. Junker noted that this year’s team lost its starting shortstop and third basemen to injuries, yet found a way to keep winning.

“It was our time,” Junker said. “I really believe that.”

Shaler scored one run apiece in the first and second innings before breaking the game open with five runs in the third. The Titans’ big inning was helped by two costly Bethel Park errors.

The Black Hawks made three errors in all.

“What would hurt worse, this or a walk-off loss?” Bethel Park coach Pat Zehnder said. “In a game like this, you want to bring your best game, so this really hurts. I would’ve loved to see what happens if we put up a zero in the third inning.”

Bethel Park (17-5) is a two-time defending state champion, but the WPIAL title has eluded the team since winning in 1987 and ’85.

Black Hawks starter Evan Holewinski allowed seven runs in four innings on six hits and two walks. Only one run was earned. The Kent State recruit struck out two.

Shaler added three more runs in the fifth inning.

Titans catcher Luke Jarzynka, who was moved to the leadoff spot, went 2 for 3 with an RBI and three runs scored.

Hugas and designated hitter Max Saban drove in two runs each. Shortstop Elijah Muckle, right fielder Connor Hamrick and second baseman Colby McGuire scored twice apiece.

Raymond Altmeyer tripled and scored in the fifth inning for Bethel Park’s only run against Hugas.

Hugas leans on a fastball and curveball with an occasional changeup in his repertoire. He said his command of all three was especially sharp in the finals.

“Everything was working today,” he said. “All of the pitches.”

Hugas and cousin Bryan Rincon moved from Venezuela in 2021 to live with an uncle here. Rincon, a senior shortstop last spring, was selected in the 2022 MLB Draft. Hugas, who also stars as a switch-hitting outfielder, could be selected this summer.

“They always get a bad rap for coming from Venezuela,” Junker said. “They left that country because it was dangerous. We were able to help the kids out.”

Hugas said the transition wasn’t easy.

“It was hard,” he said. “But I learned a new language. I got new friends.”

Some of those friends told him how much they wanted to win a WPIAL baseball title.

“All the time, they talked about wanting to win this,” Hugas said, “and we got it.”

Watch an archived broadcast of this game on Trib HSSN.

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at charlan@triblive.com.

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