Henshaw Pitches Briarcliff to Its Second Straight Class B Title

By Andy Jacobs

It didn’t take long for the Briarcliff Bears to let Keio know that last Wednesday’s Section 1, Class B championship game at Dutchess Stadium was not going to remind anyone of what happened when the two teams had played during the regular season at the same venue.

Briarcliff's Ryan Huegel delivers a two-run single during the Class B championship game at Dutchess Stadium. Photo By Andy Jacobs

After leading off the bottom of the first inning with an infield hit, Ryan Huegel was promptly moved to second base on a sacrifice bunt. Only Huegel never stopped at second. He hustled all the way to third base and soon scored the game’s first run on a fielder’s choice, setting the tone for the evening.

The Bears built a comfortable, early lead and senior right-hander Paul Henshaw made sure the Unicorns never got back in the contest. He limited Keio to a mere three hits as Briarcliff captured its second successive sectional title with a 5-0 victory and avenged an embarrassing loss to the Unicorns just 19 days earlier.

“That whole game was a rough game for all of us and we definitely wanted another shot at them,” said Spencer Kulman afterwards about the Bears’ 8-1 loss to Keio in mid May. “Glad a little more was at stake when we played them this time. Jumping out early is always nice. Getting a lead for Paul, he was just on cruise control the whole time and it was great to see.”

Henshaw, one of several Bears to jump on the first pitch from Keio ace Kento Suga, who had baffled them in the previous encounter, led off the second inning with a single to left field. Kulman, twice unable to lay down a bunt, then sent a 3-2 pitch up the gap in right center for a triple that drove in the Bears’ second run. Huegel brought home two more runs when he smacked a two-out single to left. After just two innings, Briarcliff had a 4-0 lead.

“The key for us,” said Bears coach John Consorti, “was to get ahead and not give them anything early and Paul gave nothing the whole game. So it was just a great game. It really was. I really kind of sat back and watched Paul go and watched our fielders just make the plays and get some timely hits. As a coach, you couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Henshaw never would have predicted he could be so dominant against the Unicorns, not the way he felt prior to taking the mound. “Warming up, my arm wasn’t great,” he admitted. “I wasn’t sure how I was gonna feel. But once the adrenaline kicked in, I was throwing really hard. I think that’s the hardest I’ve ever thrown.”

Masatoshi Katsuta led off the top of the third inning with the Unicorns’ first hit of the evening, but Henshaw proceeded to retire the next nine Keio batters. The only trouble he ran into all game came in the sixth when Kei Kobayashi hit a leadoff single and, two outs later, Masatoshi Watanabe singled up the middle. But Henshaw then retired Takumi Yokoyama on a come-backer to end the threat.

In the bottom of the sixth, Colin Orr reached on a two-base throwing error and came around to score the fifth Briarcliff run when John Fussell ripped a single to right field.

“Obviously you see the pitcher one time and you see him again it’s gotta help you,” said Consorti about the Bears’ success in the title game after being held to just five hits the first time they faced Suga. “I think we had a better grasp of what we were looking for. I just think we had much better at-bats. Even most of the outs were hit hard and I think the guys did a nice job of adjusting.”

In their final turn at the plate, the Unicorns were retired quickly in order. Henshaw induced a pair of ground balls and then struck out Yuta Ishii to end the game and send the Bears back into the state tournament, where they were set to face Section 9’s Spackenkill on Monday in the opening round for the second straight year.

“Looking back, it kind of worked in our favor,” said Consorti about the lopsided loss to Keio earlier in the month. “Sometimes a loss is a good thing. I just think at this time of the year the team is pretty focused. We started to hit a little bit, but the pitching and defense has been outstanding throughout the sectionals.”

“We came into the game thinking to play aggressive,” said Henshaw, “because the last time we played them they had us on our heels, especially how Kento was pitching. We definitely looked to show who the top team in Section 1 was. Once they won that game, they got a lot of confidence and we wanted to prove them wrong. It feels great, but I want to keep going and keep advancing to the state final.”

So with another sectional title in their possession, in addition to some sweet revenge against the Unicorns, the Bears are back in the hunt for the state championship they came within a game of winning last year.

“They know what they want, it’s ahead of them, and now we have the opportunity,” said Consorti. “We’re still playing. This is where they wanna be and they’re here and now we get an opportunity to advance in the regionals. To be where we were last year and to have an opportunity to get there again is a pretty special thing, so hats off to our players.”

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