Lower Merion – Holding on to a 1-0 lead and trying to get the final out of the PIAA District 1 5A softball championship game, West Chester Henderson pitcher Madelyn Skinner relaxed when Interboro’s Haley Barrett popped up her 2-1 pitch in the direction of third baseman Cameron Trotter.
“I knew Cam was going to get it,” said Skinner. “Our team’s played amazing defense all year.”
When Trotter squeezed the ball for the final out Thursday, the sophomore third sacker was mobbed by her fellow Warriors, and No. 3 seed West Chester Henderson (16-8) had its first-ever district softball championship with a 1-0 win against fourth seeded Interboro at Harriton High School.
Skinner pitched a five-hitter, allowing no hits after the fourth innings. The junior hurler also was helped by some fine fielding plays throughout the game.
“As soon as we scored in the fifth inning, I felt good, because I know we have a great defense,” said Skinner. “My curve was working really well today, and I was mixing in rises, getting good spin and keeping the ball off the heart of the plate.”
In 158 innings pitched this spring, Skinner has walked only 30 batters (and none on Thursday).
Henderson head coach Chris Hessler said, “Madelyn’s been trusting her defense all year, and in the last couple of games she has been controlling the game in the later innings.”
Trotter, who caught the final popup, said, “When I saw the ball coming off [Barrett’s] bat into the air, I knew I was going to get it – I feel confident on popups. I called for it, and when I caught it I was so excited – it’s our first [district] championship. It’s been a very fun year – we just don’t give up.”
West Chester Henderson junior shortstop Casey Collins, who played a key role in the Warriors’ epic come-from-behind victory in the district quarterfinals against Kennett, and scored the game’s only run Thursday, said, “I’m so excited, but winning this championship really hasn’t really sunk it yet. This is a versatile group that’s worked so hard and come so far. We’ve had a lot of amazing games this year.”
To get to its first-ever district championship final, Henderson had to overcome an 8-3 deficit in the sixth inning of the district quarterfinal against Kennett, then erase a 2-1 deficit after five innings against No. 2 seed Bishop Shanahan and its pitching ace, Devon Miller, in the District 1 semifinal.
Henderson senior center fielder Carly Bullock, who made several excellent catches in deep center field Thursday, said, “I knew we could do it [win the district title]. Our big focus today was to get [enough] baserunners.”
The Warriors kept putting runners on base in the early innings, but did not score until the fifth inning.
Collins, who is currently batting .459, led off the first inning with a walk, moved to second on Carly Bullock’s single, and then took third on a double steal. The Warriors had runners on second and third with no one out, but failed to score.
In the bottom of the second, with one out, Henderson’s Abby Hunt lined a single to right field and took third when the Interboro right fielder missed the ball. The Warriors’ Erin Golden hit a popup near home plate that Interboro’s star catcher Amber Seaman made a nice running catch on. Skinner lined a shot up the middle that grazed Interboro pitcher Bridget Bailey and finished in the glove of Buc shortstop Kate Patton for the final out.
Henderson threatened to score again in the bottom of the third. With two outs, Grace Abbonizio lined a single to center field, and took third on an infield error in which Trotter reached first. Trotter then stole second, but the Warriors again failed to score.
Interboro threatened to score in the top of the fourth on singles by Barb Carosi and Brit Pinkerton with one out. But the next two Bucs lined to Collins, the second one a low line drive that the Henderson junior infielder deftly reached down for and snagged before it hit the ground.
In the top of the fifth, the first two Bucs pounded long drives to center field that Bullock caught. The second one appeared to be hit over Bullock’s head, but she raced back and made a fine running catch to rob Interboro’s Sam Bellano of an extra-base hit.
“I saw it come off the bat, and it was coming right over my head,” said Bullock. “I had to track it, and once I did, I thought I had it.”
Skinner said, “I could see [Bullock] tracking the ball out in center field, and I thought, ‘Thank goodness.’ She made an amazing play.”
Hessler said, “That was a fantastic catch. Corinne Ciarrocchi made a nice catch in right field too. Really, today’s win was an overall team effort.”
In the bottom of the fifth, Henderson loaded the bases with nobody out, and finally scored a run. Collins started the rally off by punching a single to center field on a 1-2 pitch after fouling off several previous offerings.
“Their pitcher [Bridget Bailey] was throwing inside and out, and I had to protect the plate with two strikes,” said Collins.
Bullock (who is currently batting .446) and Abbonizio (batting .351) then laid down well-placed bunts, and each reached first base safely to load the bases. Trotter was hit by a pitch on the first offering thrown to her, and Collins came in to score.
“I’ve been pitched away this season, so I was looking for an outside pitch,” said Trotter, who is a right-handed batter. “I think [Bailey] threw me a screwball, and I moved my front leg out of the way, and it hit my back leg.”
Skinner then pitched 1-2-3 innings in the sixth and seventh inning to close it out.
“Once we went through the lineup a couple of times, I started throwing change-ups to get the hitters off-balance,” said Skinner.
The dangerous Seaman led off the top of the sixth, and the star catcher hit a grounder to deep third. Trotter gunned her out at first on a fine throw across the diamond, then Carosi flied to Ciarrocchi in right, and Lily Bonner grounded out to Collins to end the inning.
In the top of the seventh, Pinkerton led off and hit a foul ball that approached the screen behind the first base line. Henderson first baseman Rebecca Grey made a fine catch just shy of the screen.
Emily Gavin, the next hitter, hit a high popup between first and second, and Henderson second baseman Erin Golden ran into short right field to catch the popup.
Skinner went to a 2-1 count on Barrett, who then popped to Trotter to end the game.
Bullock said, “When I saw the ball in the air, I was glad it was hit to Trotter – I knew she would catch it.”