Some kids grow up dreaming of winning a WPIAL baseball title.
And then there’s Miguel Hugas, who didn’t even know what the WPIAL even was until just two years ago.
“I didn’t even know English,” Hugas said with a smile.
Hugas came to Shaler from Venezuela in January of 2021 with a baseball and a dream of playing the sport professionally. When he graduates Friday, he’ll leave not only with that dream, but with a WPIAL championship, as well.
What figured to be a duel between two of the district’s elite pitchers and all-around players turned into a one-sided affair Tuesday, as No. 1 Shaler rolled to its second WPIAL title in five years by thumping No. 2 Bethel Park, 10-1, in the Class 5A championship.
With the win, Shaler (19-4) became just the eighth school to win six WPIAL titles. The Titans won their previous one in 2019. Bethel Park (17-5), the two-time defending PIAA champion, came up short in its bid to win its third title and first since 1987. The Black Hawks will now take aim at becoming the first team to win three consecutive PIAA titles.
The crowd at Wild Things Park was a large one, a big reason being the showdown of Hugas and Bethel Park ace Evan Holewinski. Hugas is an Alabama recruit and Holewinski is headed to Kent State. Holewinski, a 6-foot-4 senior right-hander, never quite got into a groove and his defense didn’t give him a ton of help. Holewinski went four innings, allowing seven runs (one earned) and six hits. He struck out two and walked two in what was just the second loss of his high school career. He’s now 20-2. But on this night, Hugas was the star of stars. A 6-3 senior right-hander, Hugas went the distance, allowing one run and five hits with one walk and eight strikeouts to improve to 8-0. He went 1 for 3 with two RBIs, as well.
“He was good,” Shaler coach Brian Junker said. “He worked fast. He threw strikes. He made plays on the mound. He came up with some big hits. He threw three pitches for strikes. A couple times we got lazy there and threw too many fastballs down the middle and they tagged it. But again, he was amazing.”
A good sign that it would be Hugas’ night came when he faced his first hitter of the game. Bethel Park’s Ryan Petras hit a screamer back to the mound which Hugas casually caught behind his back before throwing a strike to first base.
“We had a plan to attack that fastball early and I thought Petras led off the game with a really good attack. And, of course, Hugas says, ‘You can hit it hard. I’m just going to catch it anyway,’” said Bethel Park coach Pat Zehnder, whose team saw their 10-game win streak come to an end.
Added Junker, “The first play of the game. I mean, I knew he wasn’t nervous, but that’s SportsCenter.”
Shaler staked its stud pitcher to a 2-0 lead by scoring single runs in the first and second innings. In the first, Derek Leas hit a two-out, run-scoring single. Then in the second, Luke Jarzynka drew a bases-loaded walk. Jarzynka, a sophomore catcher, typically hits in the bottom third of the order, but batted leadoff for the first time Tuesday due to a recent tear. The plan worked as he had two hits, drew a walk, had an RBI, and scored three runs.
Rallying from two runs down against Hugas would likely be a tall task, but seven? It was a harsh reality Bethel Park was forced to face after giving up five runs in a third inning that saw Shaler capitalize on a pair of Bethel Park errors to take a commanding lead. What really stung was that Bethel Park nearly escaped the jam unscathed after Holewinski allowed the first two batters to reach. But with two outs, a fly ball flicked off the glove of right fielder Jack Bruckner, allowing two runs to score. Two batters later, the Titans plated two more runs on a throwing error by Petras at shortstop. Hugas then followed with a run-scoring single.
“Once we got the runs, I was able to relax a little bit more and I got more confidence on the mound,” said Hugas, who later added that his family back in Venezuela was watching the game on the Internet.
After retiring Bethel Park in order each of the first three innings, Hugas surrendered a leadoff single to Petras to begin the fourth. But, wouldn’t you know, Hugas quickly picked the speedster off of first base. The Black Hawks finally got to Hugas in the fifth when his wild pitch allowed Ray Altmeyer to score. Altmeyer led off the frame with a triple.
Shaler, though, got that run back and more in the bottom of the fifth. Hugas hit a sacrifice fly and Max Saban tagged a two-run double to extend the Shaler lead to 10-1.
Zehnder said some of the things he saw from his team was uncharacteristic of them, but he was quick to applaud Shaler for their play.
“A couple of guys with no errors on the season and they made a couple today,” Zehnder said. “Guys getting picked off and calls maybe not going our way. But you’ve got to give credit to Shaler. They were a complete buzzsaw today. I don’t know if anyone was beating them the way they played today. Their hitters had such a good approach, battled with two strikes, and earned everything that they got.”