West Xtra: Junior pitcher made mark for South Side Beaver

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It was the sixth innings before Dustin Lander realized he hadn't allowed a hit.

During last Friday afternoon's WPIAL Class AA first-round matchup against Shady Side Academy, South Side Beaver's star junior left-handed pitcher was more concerned about the score than his personal statistics.

"I came into the dugout and started thinking about how many hits I gave up," said Lander, a Hookstown resident. "As long as we were winning was all that mattered to me at that moment."

Lander ended up walking four batters, hit a batter and struck out 11 en route to tossing his first varsity no-hitter during a 6-0 win against No. 13-seed Shady Side Academy. Besides pushing the fourth-seeded Rams into the quarterfinals, the win presented the program with its first postseason victory in 14 seasons.

"It was kind of interesting to see how we would do in our first playoff game in 14 years," South Side Beaver coach Chip Hunter said. "Once we put the ball in Dustin's hand, everyone followed his lead. He went out and did a great job."

South Side Beaver (16-3), however, witnessed its playoff run and season come to an end the very next evening after losing a 2-0 decision against No. 5 Deer Lakes. Before the playoffs, the Rams along with Quaker Valley shared the Section 1-AA title with 12-2 section records.

"We had a great season," Lander said. "It was disappointing to lose in the second round, but everyone did their job all year long. It was great to get into the playoffs, especially since the team hadn't been there in so long.

"Since the beginning of the season, we were a focused team. We worked hard and set our goal at making the playoffs and going from there. It was sad to see it come to an end."

A 5-foot-10, 170-pound lefty, Lander went 7-0 with 67 strikeouts during the regular season, the second best record among all WPIAL pitchers regardless of classification. Butler Area's Wyatt Daugherty led the district with an 8-0 record.

"Dustin was absolutely phenomenal this season," Hunter said. "He's a coach's dream and has a great work ethic. Every time he went out to the mound, he gave us an opportunity to win.

"Dustin is a quiet leader who led by example. He worked very hard and deserves everything he's earned. He never complains. He goes out and does his job. He's always positive about things and everyone enjoys being around him."

Lander served as the Rams' leadoff hitter and played right field when he wasn't pitching.

"He hit around .400 this season," Hunter said. "He got on base for us, was pretty quick and was a threat on the bases. He got everything going with our bats.

"Dustin is also a phenomenal outfielder and just a great athlete. We really needed him in the second half of the season and he stepped up and set the table for us."

Throughout the regular season as well as during his no-hitter against Shady Side Academy, Lander exhibited a consistent demeanor, his coach said.

"That overall determination was always there," Hunter said. "He was never too high or too low. He was just focused and got the job done. You could never tell he had a no-hitter going. At one point he struggled and walked a couple guys, but his expression never changed.

"He's low key and focused. He's a phenomenal kid. For a kid, at such a young age, to be like that is pretty impressive."

Lander, who also plays basketball for South Side Beaver, hopes to pitch at the college level. He still has a senior season ahead of him, though, and plans to play baseball this summer for a pair of travel teams, including Beaver County's Sports Zone Baseball Academy's Express 17-under team.

As for his senior season with the Rams, Lander expects a big challenge next year.

"We're definitely going to go through some rebuilding," Lander said. "We're losing six senior starters, so that's a big deal."

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