Red Land can't overcome slow start, missed opportunities late in PIAA 5-A title-game loss

ROB ROSE
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Red Land's Benny Montgomery hugs teammate Brady Ebbert (9) after the Patriots fell 4-2 against Bethel Park in the PIAA Class 5-A state title game at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park in State College Thursday, June 17, 2021. Bill Kalina photo

UNIVERSITY PARK — Down by two runs, Red Land put the tying run on second base with no outs in both the sixth and seventh innings.

In each frame, the Patriots needed just one clutch swing to tie the game.

Instead, the Patriots stranded two players in each of the final two innings and it resulted in a 4-2 loss to Bethel Park in the PIAA Class 5-A baseball championship game on Tuesday.

“It’s a heck of a year,” Red Land head coach Nate Ebbert said. “I mean, we played a good game, they just simply played better today and we got beat by a good team, a good pitcher, and it stinks coming this far with the expectations, but these guys played a heck of a season. We battled right to the end and just didn’t get the breaks that we needed.”

Red Land's Benny Montgomery is picked off at first with Bethel Park's Zachary Sackett making the tag in the PIAA Class 5-A state title game at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park in State College Thursday, June 17, 2021. Bill Kalina photo

District 3 champion Red Land (25-5) found itself trying to dig out of an early hole the entire game, which was played at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park on Penn State's main campus. 

One start after he threw a no-hitter with 10 strikeouts in the quarterfinals against Archbishop Wood, junior pitcher Kaden Peifer didn’t make it one inning before a batter reached base.

Two errors by Patriots' infielders didn’t help, but District 7 runner-up Bethel Park (22-4) took a 3-0 lead after the first inning and didn’t need any more offense with their dominant starting pitcher on the mound.

Senior Eric Chalus entered the championship with a 10-0 record and 0.85 ERA and didn’t disappoint on the big stage. The Kent State commit went six innings and had six strikeouts. He struck out the final two batters he faced and stopped Red Land star senior Benny Montgomery from coming to the plate with a chance to tie the game in the sixth inning.

Red Land hurler Kaden Peifer throw to a Bethel Park hitter in the PIAA Class 5-A state title game at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park in State College Thursday, June 17, 2021. Bill Kalina photo

“These kids gave me all they had all year and they've played some great games,” Ebbert said. "I mean, you can't knock them for anything. They battled, they gave it their all and unfortunately it just wasn't enough today.”

Montgomery went 1 for 3 with one stolen base, one run scored and was hit by a pitch. The projected first-round pick in the upcoming Major League Baseball Draft and his fellow seniors — Cole Wagner, Ethan Phillips and Braden Kolmansberger — graduate after a successful high school run that included a 2019 5-A state crown. Wagner, Phillips, Kolmansberger and Peifer were also part of the 2015 Red Land team which won the Little League World Series U.S. Championship before losing to Japan in the final.

Still, despite the graduation losses, Ebbert doesn’t anticipate a decline by the Patriots next season.

“Hopefully it's not over, but it ends a heck of a run for these guys,” Ebbert said. “They've won a lot of things and I thought we're gonna win it again today. I still had that feeling we were gonna pull another one out, but give credit to those guys over there. They played a heck of a game and made the plays and pitches they needed to.”

Red Land's Benny Montgomery gestures after scoring a run in the fifth inning against Bethel Park in the PIAA Class 5-A state title game at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park in State College Thursday, June 17, 2021. Bill Kalina photo

Wagner had two doubles with an RBI, while Phillips was 3 for 4 and drove in one run as well. After the tough start, Peifer pitched well, going the distance and allowing two earned runs.

Bethel Park’s Cody Geddes closed out the victory on the mound in the seventh and tripled at the plate with two RBIs and scored a run.

Although the season ended differently than they dreamed, Ebbert was proud of his players. The coaching staff hugged the Patriots harder than usual after the game, as the realization set in that they had played their last game for Red Land, but Ebbert said it won't be the last time they pick up a bat in the years to come.

Bethel Park's David Kesslers reaches for the throw as Red Land's Benny Montgomery steals second in the fifth inning against in the PIAA Class 5-A state title game at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park in State College Thursday, June 17, 2021. Bill Kalina photo

“They're like my kids, man. I've known them since they were little kids and it's tough saying goodbye to them,” Ebbert said. “I know we'll see them around. I know they're gonna play a lot more baseball.”

Bethel Park earned its second-ever state baseball title after winning its first crown in 1988. Red Land was searching for its third PIAA baseball crown after winning in 2019 and 1990.

Reach Rob Rose at rrose@yorkdispatch.com