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District 1 5A softball: Henderson’s epic comeback captures first-ever state tourney berth

West Goshen – Maybe it was fitting that shortstop Kasey Collins caught the final out of West Chester Henderson’s 9-8 win against Kennett Friday, a victory that earned the Warriors their first-ever PIAA state tournament berth.
With the Warriors trailing 8-3 in the bottom of the sixth in the PIAA District 1 5A quarterfinals at Robert E. Lambert Park, and six outs away from their season ending, Collins led off with a single on a 3-2 pitch, sparking a six-run rally by Henderson.
Then, with one out and the bases empty in the top of the seventh, Collins made the fielding play of the game, ranging deep into the hole to field a Kennett ground ball and making a long, perfect throw across the diamond that was just in time for the out.
So when the next Kennett batter punched a soft drive, it seemed fitting that the ball headed straight to Collins. The junior shortstop grabbed the ball, leaped in the air and was mobbed by her victorious teammates.
Collins said, “When I saw the ball coming toward me, I told myself to calm down, I set my feet, and when I caught it, I was so excited. This team is phenomenal – we never give up. It’s kind of our motto – that we can hang with any team if we give it our all.”
The No. 3 seed Warriors (14-8) will face second seed Bishop Shanahan Tuesday in the District 1 semifinals.
“Kasey has been on fire the last few games,” said Henderson head coach Chris Hessler. “But we’ve been getting help from a lot of different players. Carly Bullock has been hitting great out of the No. 2 spot, Corinne Ciarrocchi has been hitting well, and Madelyn Skinner has pitched all but one inning for us this season. We’ve been preaching the team [concept] all year, with our fielders having the pitcher’s back, and our pitcher trusting the defense.”
Skinner said, “When I saw [the final out] going to Kasey, I thought, ‘That’s the player I’d want a line drive going to.’ She’s one of the best. Our defense made a number of great plays today, and I’m really proud of our team – we never gave up, we didn’t feel sorry for ourselves early.”
Henderson trailed 8-1 after three innings, as No. 11 seed Kennett followed the same pattern it did in an 11-3 win in its district opener Wednesday against sixth seeded West Chester East – score early and often.
Friday, Kennett scored first when Blue Demon pitcher Madison Bowe cracked a double to left, scoring leadoff hitter Sam Weaver in the first inning for a 1-0 lead.
Kennett increased the lead to 3-0 in the second inning when Jamie Wessels pounded a two-out double to left, scoring Ainsley Albert and Jordan Barish.
The Blue Demons erupted for five runs in the top of the third inning – four of them with two outs.
Kennett held a 4-1 lead with two outs in the third and Maddie O’Sullivan on second base when Barish came to the plate. Barish lined a single to right field (her second hit of the game), scoring O’Sullivan, then Carleigh Smith drew a walk.
Weaver singled to center, scoring Barish to make it 6-1. An outfield error led to two more Kennett runs, and suddenly the visitors led, 8-1.
In the bottom of the fourth, Henderson got some two-out runs of its own. With two outs and the bases empty, Bullock (who is currently batting .429, and had three hits Friday) beat out an infield hit, then Grace Abbonizio reached third base on an outfield error, scoring Bullock. Cameron Trotter lined a single over second base to score Abbonizio and make the score 8-3.
It was still 8-3 going into the bottom of the sixth when Collins, who has a batting average of .475 and has scored 28 runs in 22 games, led off for the Warriors.
Collins worked the count to 3-2, then lined a single over second base.
“I knew I had to get on base,” said Collins, who has verbally committed to play softball at Hofstra University. “On 3-2, I was looking for a close pitch, I was protecting the plate, I poked [the ball] and it found a hole.”
Henderson was working its way into the meat of its order. With one out, Abbonizio (batting .353) lined a single off Bowe to put two runners on base.
Trotter, who has 14 extra-base hits, 36 RBI’s and an OPS of 1.251, then stepped to the plate. The Warriors’ cleanup hitter lined a single between third and shortstop to score Collins and cut Kennett’s lead to 8-4.
Brooke Espenshade, who leads Henderson in walks drawn (12), then worked a walk from a 2-2 count to load the bases with one out.
Ciarrocchi (currently batting .358) hit an infield grounder, and all hands were safe when the infielder’s throw was too late to nail Abbonizio at home plate.
Abby Hunt singled to left, scoring two runs to make it 8-7. On the throw home, Hunt and Ciarrocchi advanced to second and third base, respectively.
The next batter, Henderson’s Erin Golden, made the most of her golden opportunity, flaring a single to left field which scored Hunt and Ciarrocchi to give the Warriors their first lead of the game, 9-8.
With three outs to go and a state tournament berth on the line, it was up to Skinner, who had allowed only one hit in the past three innings. She retired the Warriors 1-2-3 in the seventh, with some help from Collins.
“That [one-out] grounder was pretty deep, and I knew I had to get some air on [the throw],” said Collins. “Winning this game and getting to States has really been a team effort. Madelyn has done a phenomenal job pitching for us.”
While Henderson prepares for the district semifinal and the PIAA state tournament, Kennett’s season is over after coming so close to capturing back-to-back road wins in the district tournament and garnering the state tournament berth that went to the Warriors instead.
Kennett head coach Lauren Gottstein said, “Henderson outhit us today [14-10], and we just stopped scoring. I’m proud of our team, we’re a young group –  and we’ll be back [next season].”

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