In an early-season Ches-Mont National Division and intra-city bragging rights confrontation, West Chester East edged Henderson, 5-4, in 10 innings Wednesday afternoon to set the tone for another hotly-contested spring between the two top-tier varsity baseball programs.
“It was wild. We battled back ,” stated East coach Dean Owens, whose team is now 2-1 on the season and 2-0 in the league. “It was a huge confidence-builder for us.”
The victorious Vikings graduated 12 seniors from last year’s Ches-Mont championship team, so a win over the more veteran Warriors was big. “We have talent, but some of it is untested,” added Owens. “Our bench came up huge. This brings us together. It shows the kids we have something to work toward.” The next step for East is Friday night under the lights at Coatesville.
With both teams at 1-1 (East lost to St. Joe’s Prep and beat Kennett; Henderson lost to Twin Valley and topped Unionville), early momentum and neighborhood pride was at stake. Henderson won the PIAA AAAA State Championship in 2010 and East posted a stellar 19-4 record in 2011.
Thanks to East’s Liam Harsh, it is the Vikings who can smile until the April 25 regular season rematch at Henderson. Harsh came on in relief to pitch the final three innings and then decided the game with a walk-off single to center in the bottom of the 10th. The winning hit knocked in David Hontz, who walked and reached second on a passed ball.
The other big hit for East was an RBI pinch double by Ross Kullman into the right-centerfield gap that cut the Henderson lead to 3-2. That runner then tied the game, scoring on a sacrifice fly. Brad Rhoades had a triple and scored a run while Luke Lawrence delivered a quality start from the mound and contributed a ground-rule double.
An earlier tension filled moment came in the bottom of the eighth, when East tied the game at 4-4 and then loaded the bases. Henderson reliever Mike Nugent got a weak roller in front of the plate that became a force out at home before getting a strikeout to end the inning and keep his team alive.
For Henderson, Greg McLauglin also delivered a quality start, giving up only one run over five innings. Chas McCormick was the Warriors’ offensive star with a double, a triple and three walks. Ryan Lucas singled in Kevin Miller with the then go-ahead run in the top of the eighth for Henderson.
“They came up big when they had to,” stated Henderson coach Luke McNichol in a nod to the Vikings. “They capitalized in a couple of big spots.”
The Warriors move on to a Friday afternoon home game against Bishop Shanahan at Owens Field. “I told our players, ‘You can’t take a microscope to this game. We made mistakes. We did some things well.’” continued McNichol. “There’s a lot of baseball left.”