On Wednesday, Nov. 16 at the school’s West Campus, Pennsbury senior Billy Bethel, center, announced his intentions to attend classes and play baseball at Chestnut Hill College. He’s pictured here with Falcon baseball head coach Joe Pesci, left, and assistant coach Tom Pettit, right. (Steve Sherman – 21st-Century Media)
FALLS TWP. – Topping the list of the fall 2016 college commits at Pennsbury was infielder/pitcher Billy Bethel, who helped the Falcons to a fifth-place finish in 2015 District 1-AAA Tournament and a berth in the PIAA quarterfinals that year.
Filling in for a senior who quit the team five games into the season, Bethel hit .450 that year, helping the team to district playoff wins over Spring-Ford, Conestoga and Boyertown and a PIAA win over Hempfield.
Last season, he helped Pennsbury to a second-place finish in the Suburban One National League and a third straight berth in districts. In the D-1 tourney, the Falcons went 1-1 with a win over Academy Park and a loss to district finalist Boyertown.
Bethel is headed to Chestnut Hill College to be reunited with his former infield mate Zach Szumigala, who hit .255 with 21 runs scored and 13 RBIs for the Griffins last season.
Bethel also looked at Misericordia but simply liked Chestnut Hill better including the fact that the campus is only a short drive from Levittown.
“It felt like home,” said Bethel, who also plays for Yardley-Morrisville Post 317. “They have a good baseball program, good academics; it just felt like the right place for me.”
Playing in head coach Joe Pesci’s system – one that helped the team to 35 wins over the past two campaigns – aided Bethel in his quest to take his game to the next level.
“The program here definitely helped a lot,” said Bethel, who plays club ball for the Reading Blue Rocks. “We work out from August to the beginning of the season.
“That helped me out and the coaching staff really prepared me for the next step.
With help from infielders D.J. Endler (1B), Pat Lawrence (2B) and Szumigala (SS) – all, Suburban One League (SOL) first team selections in 2015, along with pitchers Logan Buell, Brody McFadden and Sean Maniatis (Widener), the Falcons finally got over the hump in 2015, winning the first league title in 19 years for Pennsbury.
“The senior class two years ago really showed us how to progress and step over that hump,” said Bethel. “We’re just going to try to build on that and make the program even better for the years to come.”
Going into the spring 2017 campaign, the Falcons lost only two seniors in left-handed pitcher Zach Conley and infielder/DH Bryen Kimbrough.
“We only lost two so we come back with a lot of experience,” said Bethel. “That should definitely help going into this season.”
But what about Conley – the southpaw the team turned to when it really needed a win? Conley possessed a fastball that topped out at 83 mph and a curveball that reached near 70 mph.
“We have a couple sophomores that could fill that role, if not this year, then maybe next,” explained Bethel. “I feel like we have the players that can help us fill that role and not lose a step.
Bethel’s batting average was down last year but he stepped up on the mound after the team lost a lot of pitching talent with 2015 graduation.
“His impact on the mound was huge,” said Pesci. “He was able to throw three pitches for strikes.”
In 2015, Bethel had Lawrence, Szumigala, Endler and McFadden surrounding him in the lineup. They were all hitting over .400. Bethel didn’t have that kind of protection in the batting order in 2016.
“It was a big transition last year for him to be ‘the guy,’” explained Pesci. “Last year, the (pitchers) knew Billy and it was a lot more difficult because he had a lot more pressure on him.
“He would struggle but he came up with these big hits. He had his clutch moments.”
One of those moments came during a late season comeback win over eventual 2016 league champ Council Rock North. In it, Bethel belted a 3-run double, helping the Falcons to 7-6 win over the Indians.
Pesci likes the work ethic provided by Bethel. Coach says Billy is a lunch-pail mechanic, of sorts.
“He’s not a vocal, rah-rah type of guy but he’s kind of a mainstay,” said Pesci. “He comes to the workouts, put his time in practice and kids follow the way he approaches the game.”
“He’s one of those kids who keeps an even keel when things are going well and even when things are going bad.
“You look at that and you can see why he’s a pretty valuable part of the team.”
In Lower Bucks American Legion play, Bethel hit .300 with a .400 slugging percentage and a .464 on-base percentage. In 23 games for the Riversharks last summer, Bethel’s OBP was .390. In 20 innings on the mound, he struck out 15 batters for Y-M.
The high school coach likes the college selection made by the player. In the end, picking an institution that Bethel really wanted to attend, the chance to play right away and an opportunity to play a position and pitch were overriding factors that landed Bethel at Chestnut Hill.
Contrary to a slew of rumors circulating around the community, Pesci will return to guide the Falcons in 2017. Folks must have thought that since Pesci recently accepted a teaching position in the New Hope-Solebury School District that he might take a coaching position with the Lions.
“I am still coaching at Pennsbury as long as I can do it and balance my family and as long as (Athletic Director) Lou (Sudholtz) can put up with me,” quipped Pesci.
Pesci played first base for the Falcons, graduated from Pennsbury and Bloomsburg University, then coached JV baseball for four years (2006-09) before taking the varsity baseball coaching position in 2010.