STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Red Land came up just short in its bid to defend its 2019 state baseball title.
The Patriots fell 4-2 to Bethel Park Tuesday afternoon in the PIAA Class 5A championship game in State College.
It was a bittersweet end to the season and the end of an era for Red Land seniors Cole Wagner, Braden Kolmansberger, Ethan Phillips, Cam Walter and Kaden Peifer, who were instrumental in both the Patriots' 2019 state title and a memorable run to the final of the Little League World Series in 2015, when they fell 3-2 to Tokyo after winning the U.S. Championship.
Red Land had its chances -- especially in the late innings -- but Bethel Park starting pitcher Eric Chalus wriggled his way out of a handful of jams while scattering two runs, seven hits and three walks over six innings.
Chalus' biggest escape came in the top of the sixth, when Red Land had the tying runs and second and third with nobody out, while Chalus' pitch count edging toward the 105-pitch limit.
The lefthander coaxed a grounder up the first base line from Drew Hildebrand that did not allow the runners to advance, then struck out Evan Keefer and Cooper Artley to end the threat.
Red Land had another golden chance to tie the game in their final at-bat against closer Cody Gettes. The Patriots had the top of the batting order -- which includes Major League Baseball Draft prospect Benny Montgomery and Wagner, a University of Georgia recruit -- leading off the inning.
Montgomery was hit by a pitch, and moved to third on Wagner's double to right. But Gettes settled down from there. He coaxed a ground out up the third base line that did not move the runners, then struck out Peiffer and got Brady Ebbert to ground out to second for the game's final out.
Bethel Park took the lead early, putting together a three-run rally in the bottom of the first inning aided by a pair of Red Land fielding errors. Cleanup hitter Cody Gettes smashed a two-run triple off the base of the left field fence, then later scored on a RBI groundout to first by Zachary Sackett.
The Black Hawks tacked on another run in the second on a RBI groundout by David Kessler.
Red Land got its first run in the top of the third when Wagner stroked a one-out single, stole second, and scored on a RBI single by Ethan Phillips.
The Patriots crept closer in the top of the fifth, as Wagner smashed a RBI double to right-center field to score Montgomery.
But Chalus robbed Red Land of an even bigger inning by turning a 1-6-3 double play with runners at the corners off Peifer's hard-hit ground ball back to the mound.
Peifer pitched six innings for Red Land, allowing four runs on five hits.
Red Land finishes its season with a 25-5 record.