The Penn State Greater Allegheny Baseball program has been built around success. They have made the Penn State University Athletic Conference playoffs in six out of the last ten seasons while making the United States Collegiate Athletic Association tournament four times during that stretch. One of the players who has been right in the middle of that success is senior Dylan Ernst (McKeesport, PA./McKeesport HS), who has been a part of three of those playoff teams and one national tournament appearance.
Growing up in McKeesport, baseball had always been a part of Ernst’s life. He has been playing the sport since the time he was young and has always had the support of family and friends throughout his career.
“We were always a very close-knit family,” said Ernst. “My mom and dad always supported me through baseball. I was introduced to the game through my friends and just interacting with them. I started playing the earliest I could and I couldn’t even tell you the first time I played because it has been so long.”
Ernst played all throughout little league before beginning his four-year career at McKeesport High School. Playing in AAAA, Ernst and his team of 34 players would face the likes of WPIAL powerhouses North Allegheny and Bethel Park and had a record of 14-52 over his four years as a player.
Despite the struggles, Ernst knew his team had the talent and he got to play around many of his friends, including fellow PSUGA senior Zack Craven, which made the experience worthwhile.
“I had a lot of friends playing in high school and it was a good time,” said Ernst. “We weren’t the best team in the league but we had fun and did what we needed to do. We were a smaller school but we were in Quad A playing teams like North Allegheny and Bethel Park. We had a couple big wins but for the most part it was up and down.”
It was through his time playing at McKeesport that he got to know Penn State Greater Allegheny. The PSUGA baseball team would practice at the Tigers home field, Renzie Park, and Ernst got to know former head coach Jim Chester. Once Ernst heard about the opportunities available through PSUGA, he jumped at the opportunity to continue his career at the next level.
“I really wasn’t recruited in high school, so it wasn’t a mission to play but coming to PSUGA was an opportunity,” said Ernst. “PSUGA would practice after us in high school and that’s where I met Jim Chester. We talked and I said I would give it a try, so I came over and applied and four years later here I am.”
From the moment Ernst joined the PSUGA baseball program he was surrounded by success. In his freshman year, his team went 32-9 and a perfect 19-0 in PSUAC play ranking them third in the nation in the USCAA. They would make it to the semifinals of the tournament before being knocked out with back-to-back losses.
“I came in and we went undefeated in conference and ranked third in the nation in the USCAA,” said Ernst. “I thought ‘is it always going to be this easy.’ When I look back and see the team we had, it was just unreal. We put in the work, we would have four-hour practices, six a.m.’s whatever it took but it was all worth it in the end.”
Then disaster struck for Ernst, it was the third game of his sophomore season against Henry Ford College. Ernst had driven in two runs earlier in the game on a single and was 1-1 drawing his second walk of the day in the top of the fifth. He would go to steal second base, and broke his leg on an awkward slide into the bag that forced him to miss the remainder of the season.
It was a long recovery process for Ernst, but his hard work mentality stayed with him throughout. He said he had to reacclimate to the game but he believes everything worked out for the best.
“It was a long recovery process,” said Ernst. “I was in a cast for about three months and when I got it off my bad leg was a noodle and the other one was strong. I played in the summer right after I got the cast off and it was scary. I was terrified to slide and it was different trying to get used to it. I think it was a sign because I was supposed to go to main campus but then that happened and I decided I wanted to play and didn’t want to leave.”
After the injury, Ernst worked harder than he ever worked to get back on the field and ready for the next season. Having gone through the injury, he gained more of an appreciation for the game and wanted to savor every moment of his playing career from there on out.
“(The injury) definitely made me work harder because I had to get back to normal,” said Ernst. “But it also made me take a step back and say don’t take things for granted because they can be taken away just like that.”
Ernst worked his way back and was a mainstay in the outfield for the rest of his PSUGA career. After a couple up and down years in his sophomore and junior playing years, he came back with the best season of his career in 2019. He set new career highs in almost every major offensive category including leading the PSUAC with a .494 batting average while driving in 24 RBI.
After being surrounded by great players throughout his career, Ernst was now the guy leading his team and helping them find success on the field.
“I guess it finally clicked that this was the last season so might as well leave it all on the field,” said Ernst. “I wasn’t trying really hard to do all that, I just had my approach and it worked. Down in Myrtle I was hurt again and had to sit out a couple games, but when I got back it just clicked.”
Perhaps the biggest success of his senior year was his ability to get on base on a consistent basis. From March 6th through the end of the season, Ernst set a PSUGA program record reaching base in 24 straight games to end his senior year. While aware he had a streak going Ernst never was truly sure just how big it got until the end of the year.
“I didn’t even know I had the streak to be honest,” said Ernst. “I was looking at my hit streak and I was at 16 and I lost that in Mont Alto. I was thinking I could try to start it over but new that it wouldn’t get too far. But then I looked deeper into the stats and I saw that I was on base almost every game. I kind of forgot about it until senior day and then I heard I broke the record and I couldn’t believe it.”
Ernst finished his PSUGA career as a .350 hitter with one home run and 63 RBI in his four seasons. To go along with great stats come great relationships with his fellow teammates that will last forever. It is this comradery that Ernst wants to pass on to the next generation of PSUGA baseball players. He says he has made life-long friendships at PSUGA that will last a life time.
“PSUGA is a small school, but I have met guys here that are still my best friends even from freshman year,” said Ernst. “The bonds that I have made here are unreal. The people you meet and the experiences you have are something I would have never had the chance to do without PSUGA Baseball. Definitely take the chance, it’s a small school and you’ll have fun.”
Now that Ernst has graduated PSUGA he is looking to the future as he tries to figure out his path. He is currently working for the city of McKeesport for the time being, but hopes to see his future go towards the field of Physical Therapy.
“Ill be working for the city of McKeesport for the time being, butI am looking at a few options,” said Ernst. “One of the things that just popped up was a pharmaceutical rep and it’s either that or I am planning to go back to grad school for physical therapy.”
Ernst’s career at PSUGA has had some of the highest highs and lowest lows, however, his hard work and determination kept him primed for success. It is that same hard work that will see him continue to succeed in life after baseball and for years to come.