LOWER MERION >> Amber Seamen came away frustrated, but not defeated. The same could be said about the entire Interboro softball team Thursday afternoon at Harriton High School.
The Bucs were frustrated over two fairly big calls that didn’t go their way. They were frustrated that they didn’t hit enough. And they were frustrated that they couldn’t support one gutsy performance by their junior ace, Bridget Bailey.
Alas, the fourth-seeded Bucs were dealt an infuriating, 1-0 loss to No. 3 West Chester Henderson in the District 1 Class 5A championship game. Both teams were chasing after their first district crown in program history.
— Matt Smith (@DTMattSmith) June 1, 2017
“It all seemed to go right for them today,” said Seamen, the All-Delco catcher who showed why she is considered one of the top players in the county with three fantastic catches behind the plate. “They have a pretty decent outfield. All of our hits … they just weren’t falling in today.”
How cruel is the game of softball? Well, for the Bucs, consider that the only run scored Thursday came via a hit batsman with the bases loaded and none out in the fifth inning. The inning was keyed by a bang-bang call at first base that could have (some Interboro fans would say should have) fallen in the Bucs’ favor, but didn’t.
A bunt single later, the bases were juiced for Henderson’s Cameron Trotter, who took a first-pitch fastball to the back.
It was the only mistake pitch Bailey had made all day. Otherwise, she was stellar, allowing six hits and striking out two, as she went toe-to-toe with her counterpart and fellow junior Madelyn Skinner, who was even better.
Bailey survived a scare earlier in the game when a line drive came right back at her. The ball grazed her hand and she fell hard to the ground. Fortunately, Bailey was able to laugh off the near traumatic experience, and the ball actually deflected off her and wa
s caught in the air by shortstop Kate Patton for the third out of the second inning.
But the one pitch that got away stuck in the crawl of the Bucs because they believe they shouldn’t have been in that situation in the first place.
“It shouldn’t have even happened,” said senior first baseman Brittany Pinkerton, who had two of the Bucs’ five hits. “The way Bridget was pitching, the way she was hitting her spots, we shouldn’t have even let that happen. She was great.”
Unfortunately, it did. Trotter never saw the pitch coming.
“In all honesty,” she said, “I thought (the pitch) was going outside. I was shocked. I stood there, like, ‘OK, that just hit me.’ But at first I thought it was going outside. When it came inside, I wasn’t expecting it and I think that’s one of the reasons it hit me.”
The Bucs (17-7) were in danger of allowing Henderson to run away with things, but their defense bailed them out. Brooke Espenshade hit a tapper back to the circle, Bailey threw home to Seamen, who fired a strike to Pinkerton for a nifty 1-2-3 double play. A popup to Patton ended the inning.
With six outs to go, the Bucs had enough time to solve the crafty pitching of Skinner, but never could find a groove at the plate.
“Couldn’t hit the gaps,” Pinkerton said. “That’s pretty much it.”
With the meat of its order due up in the sixth, Interboro was retired quietly. Seamen, who singled in the first inning, grounded out sharply to third. Barb Carosi flew out to right field and Lily Bonner bounced out to the slick-fielding Kasey Collins at shortstop.
The seventh inning was more of the same for the Bucs, but not without controversy. Pinkerton appeared to have reached on an infield single, but the first base umpire claimed the ball hit Pinkerton in the box, thus resulting in a foul ball. The call was disputed, but not overturned.
The Bucs were retired in order, rife with anger and heartache, and the Warriors celebrated their first district championship.
This wasn’t a bad trip for a Henderson team that has the pleasure of competing in the uber-competitive Ches-Mont League (compatriot Avon Grove captured a 6A crown Thursday). And of course there’s Skinner, a junior who has excelled in her first year on varsity.
“It’s really special, I’m so proud of my team,” said Skinner, who allowed five hits, but none after the fourth inning, and struck out three without issuing a walk. “We have really come a long way since the beginning of the season and I’m so proud of how everyone stepped up and did what they needed to do to get here.”
Skinner admitted that she’s not a “strikeout pitcher,” instead a hurler who purposely pitches to contact. Henderson’s defense was perfect Thursday; in particular, Collins made catches on back-to-back scorchers at shortstop to thwart an Interboro threat in the fourth.
“Madelyn has stepped up tremendously and has done such a phenomenal job this year,” Collins said. “As a defense, we just all want to have her back and we have really matured defensively this year. Defensively, we just tell each other that we have to give it our all and never give up. You got to play with grit and give it 110 percent.”
That’s exactly what Interboro did, too. For the Bucs, that may be the most frustrating truth about Thursday’s loss.
“We’ll come back for states,” Seamen said. Indeed, the Bucs qualified for the PIAA Class 5A tournament next week. They will face District 12 second-place finisher Franklin Towne Charter in the first round Monday. “We’ll learn from this and keep fighting.”
Top photo: Members of the West Chester Henderson softball team celebrate with the District 1 trophy after their 1-0 victory over Interboro Thursday at Harriton High. (Photo by Pete Bannan – Digital First Media).