May 26—Bethel Park’s Zack Sackett stood in the first-base dugout at Matulevic Field and watched two of the WPIAL’s gutsiest pitchers duel for 41 outs Tuesday without allowing a run.
Inning after inning in a WPIAL Class 5A semifinal, West Allegheny right-handler Gavin Miller and Bethel Park lefty Eric Chalus kept adding zeroes to the line on the scoreboard. Sackett, who wasn’t in the starting lineup, had a front-row view.
But as Sackett can attest, there are 42 outs in a seven-inning game.
“Coach told me, ‘Be ready. Your spot is coming up,'” said Sackett, a senior who pinch hits.
With two on and two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Sackett swung at a slider and bounced a ball high over Miller’s head for a game-winning infield single as No. 2 seed Bethel Park defeated No. 3 West Allegheny, 1-0.
The walk-off win was the Black Hawks’ second in a row and earned them a spot in the WPIAL finals for the first time since 2007. No. 1 seed Franklin Regional (18-1) awaits Bethel Park (18-3) in the finals June 1 or 2 at Wild Things Park in Washington.
“That pinch-hitting role is such a difficult role, and he’s been so good at it, just finding a way to put the ball in play,” Bethel Park coach Patrick Zehdner said. “You need a guy like that.”
Four days earlier in the quarterfinals, Sackett reached base in the seventh and a pinch runner scored the winning run. He was an unlikely hero once again, but for most of Tuesday, all eyes were on the starting pitchers.
Chalus and Miller combined for 187 pitches, 20 strikeouts, three walks and only five hits. Both are committed to play Division I baseball in college with Chalus, a senior, headed to Kent State and Miller, a junior, to Auburn. With that duo on the mound, their teams realized very early that one run might be enough.
Chalus retired the first 13 in order. Miller set down 10 of the first 11.
“Two aces going after each other — it was awesome,” said Chalus, who finished a two-hitter with 11 strikeouts and one walk. “It was a pitchers’ duel, and we just couldn’t make mistakes.”
Shaler’s ballfield had a championship atmosphere with a good crowd and a vocal West Allegheny student section in the bleachers. As an SEC recruit, Miller might be the bigger name among WPIAL players, but Chalus certainly rose to the moment.
“This is saying a lot, but this is the best I’ve ever seen him,” Zehdner said. “With the student section right behind home plate chanting his name, his aunt’s name, his grandparents’ names, he found a way to tune them out, and if anything, it probably fed him.”
Chalus credited his changeup for keeping hitters off balance. Miller’s sinker and curveball had good movement. Both had excellent fastballs.
“Gavin had it in him today,” West A coach Bryan Cornell said. “He threw four pitches for strikes, nasty pitches. He deserved a better fate, but Chalus pitched well also. Unfortunately, someone had to lose.”
Miller allowed three hits, struck out nine and walked two. He ran into trouble in the seventh when Bethel Park’s Cody Geddes reached base on a leadoff single and moved to second on Chalus’ sacrifice bunt.
Miller struck out the next batter, but West A chose to intentionally walk Ray Altmeyer to set up a potential double play. That plan was foiled by a wild pitch that led Geddes and Altmeyer advance to second and third.
With two outs, Sackett walked to the plate as a pinch hitter.
“The kid was dealing a hell of a game,” Sackett said. “I just wanted to get up there, get the ball in play and get the team the win. When I saw it bouncing I said, ‘I’ve got to put my head down and run.'”
Down to his final strike, Sackett’s bouncer died in the infield grass behind the mound, leaving no chance to throw him out at first.
“He kind of flicked his hands out on a little slider and got it over my head,” Miller said. “It hit in the perfect spot. That’s a tough one.”
West A’s season isn’t over. The Indians have qualified for the state playoffs, but that only made Tuesday’s loss a little less painful.
“You’d like to see a hard gap shot or something like that to win the game,” Cornell said. “It fell through. That’s baseball.”
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .