It’s been 36 years since Bethel Park last won a WPIAL baseball championship.
That’s a strange fact considering the Black Hawks are two-time defending PIAA champions.
“Obviously, you always want to win a WPIAL [championship], but it’s just the resiliency of our guys, the leadership of them to be able to refocus,” said Bethel Park coach Pat Zehnder, whose team lost in the WPIAL Class 5A championship in 2021 and the semifinals last season. “Some of our best practices we had all year were after losing in the WPIAL playoffs. That shows you the resiliency and the ability to bounce back and the maturity of the group.”
With six returning starters and a 14-member senior class, Bethel Park will give winning a WPIAL championship another try this season. But even if the Black Hawks don’t achieve it, there will be plenty of history at stake should they reach the PIAA playoffs once again.
Bethel Park has three-peat on its mind this season, as the Black Hawks can become the first team to win three consecutive PIAA championships. This comes a season after becoming only the fourth team from the WPIAL to win back-to-back state titles.
“They were exceptional,” senior pitcher-infielder Evan Holewinski said of the PIAA championship runs. “They’re definitely what’s providing us confidence coming into this year and has definitely set the tone for this year. I know we look back at that every day. We realize that we have targets on our backs coming in and out of practice every single day and every game, and really we use it as a challenge to do it again.”
Holewinski, senior catcher John Chalus and senior left fielder Ray Altmeyer played large roles in the team’s success the past two seasons and were selected team captains this season. The Black Hawks, who went 22-4 and 21-4 the previous two seasons, are off to a bit of a slow start this spring. They dropped to 2-3 following Thursday’s 5-2 nonsection loss at Shaler.
There are few pitchers in the state as talented as Holewinski, a 6-foot-3 right-hander and Kent State recruit who tossed a three-hit shutout against Selinsgrove in last year’s PIAA championship. Holewinski has impeccable control and provides a calming presence on the mound. In two starts this season, Holewinski is 2-0 and has not given up an earned run in 11 innings.
“He’s been unbelievable. He’s been Evan,” said Zehnder, who is in his third season. “I want to say he had one of his worst ‘stuff’ starts in the first outing of the season and he gave up one hit in six innings. That’s just who he is. He’s also batting close to .600. He’s the ultimate competitor. No moment is too big for him, and he’s pretty much been there and done pretty much everything there is to do. If you could make a baseball player in a lab somewhere, it would probably look something like him.”
The rest of the staff is still a work in progress, as several promising pitchers are currently sidelined with injuries. They include sophomore Ryan Walsh, a Penn State recruit who underwent knee surgery in January. It’s uncertain if he will see the field this season.
Senior outfielder Jason Nuttridge is another key returnee, and keep an eye on sophomore infielder Ryan Petras, a speedster and terrific all-around athlete who came on strong late last season and shined playing for the Bethel Park football team last fall.
“He’s another guy where no moment is too big,” Zehnder said. “He’s been really successful in the biggest moments on the football field. He’s used to kind of being the guy and I think he’s starting to embrace that role here. He has really come on batting wise in the last couple of games and I look for that to continue. He’s an absolute freak out there for sure.”
Arrigo en fuego
South Side (3-0) has had a case of the runs in the early going, scoring 57 of them over its first three games. And while many players are off to hot starts, none of them have been more on fire than Alex Arrigo.
Arrigo is a senior and California (Pa.) recruit who has been tearing the cover off the ball. He’s hitting .750 and has driven in a whopping 14 runs, which according to MaxPreps led the entire state going into Thursday’s action. Arrigo knocked in five runs against Cornell and then five and four in consecutive wins against Laurel. Arrigo had three hits in each game, including a total of five extra-base hits. He hit a grand slam against Cornell. But hitting isn’t the only thing Arrigo is doing well. He’s also 2-0 on the mound.
Arrigo hasn’t quite come out of nowhere, though. A season ago, he batted .450 with 18 RBIs and was 3-3 on the bump for the Rams, who finished 9-8.
Franklin Regional piles up wins
While some teams have managed to play only one or two games thus far, Franklin Regional has been quite the opposite. WPIAL teams are allowed to play 20 games during the regular season, and the Panthers have already gotten in six before the calendar has flipped from March to April.
While quantity is nice, Franklin Regional has also been all about quality. The Panthers upped their record to 6-0 earlier this week following back-to-back wins against Penn Hills to open section play. In the second of those triumphs against Penn Hills, Franklin Regional junior right-hander Max Bernadowski allowed one run and struck out eight over six frames to pick up the win, while also going 1 for 2 with 2 RBIs, 3 walks and 3 stolen bases.
Greensburg C.C. hurler dealing
Ethan Brody was Greensburg Central Catholic’s No. 3 pitcher last season, but if his first two starts are of any indication, this junior right-hander appears to be the No. 1 option this season.
Brody has been fabulous for Greensburg C.C. (2-2), picking up both pitching wins while surrendering only one run over 12 innings. Brody fired a five-inning no-hitter against Southmoreland in which he struck out nine and walked just one. Six days later against Ligonier Valley, Brody surrendered one run on six hits to go along with one strikeout and one walk in a complete-game win. Brody now sports a minuscule 0.58 ERA.