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Crusaders are state champs

Brooks Henderson had four hits as the Father Judge baseball team won a 6A state championship, knocking off Mount Lebanon 4-1. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

It wasn’t the excitement. 

It wasn’t because he was running on no sleep.

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But when Brooks Henderson woke up Sunday morning, it took him a few seconds to realize he wasn’t still dreaming. But it didn’t help him put what he and his teammates on the Father Judge High School baseball team accomplished into words.

“I have no words, I really don’t know what to say,” Henderson said. “People ask, ‘How’s it feel or did you expect it?’ I don’t know how to answer. I have no words, but I can tell you it’s an unbelievable feeling.”

It is a state championship. 

That’s what Judge won Saturday when it knocked off Mount Lebanon 4-1 in the finals of the 6A state championship. This was the first baseball championship in school history, just the second team title won by Judge (the Crusaders won a soccer championship in 2009). 

This year’s baseball team also won a Catholic League championship and a District 12 title and ended the season 25-2. 

There were plenty of heroes in the win over Mount Lebanon.

The biggest was David Rodriguez, the all-world pitcher who went the distance, striking out eight and allowing just six hits.

On offense, Henderson had four hits and scored two runs. Anthony Jakeman drove in two runs for the Crusaders. 

But this season wasn’t about this win or making history. Those things are all bonuses, but this team was going to have a special year no matter what the outcome was. 

However, this team has been playing do-or-die games for more than a month, and they knew if they lost, it was done.

They wanted it to go as long as possible.

But while most of the team knew each other coming in, Henderson wasn’t part of that group. Four years later, he’s one of the boys, but it took a while because when this group of seniors were freshmen, there was no baseball. COVID took care of that.

“So I didn’t know any of them,” said Henderson, who lives in Feasterville. “Freshman year, towards the end of the year right before COVID, we did baseball workouts. We played on field, practice for a day or two, and then, everything shut down. 

“It was like I started to meet them, get to know them, that winter and spring. It went dead and I didn’t see them. Then in the summer, I was asked to play for Liberty Bell with them and it’s a great group of guys and a fun couple years. It’s where I met them and now they’re my best friends. It’s pretty sweet, it really is. Just worked out so well.”

Henderson was a top guy on this team since his sophomore year, starting at shortstop. Last year, he battled some injury woes, but recovered to get back and play second base. This year, he returned to his old spot. He also helps in other ways, including as a three-year captain for the Crusaders.

“I just try to be a good teammate, I was leadoff guy, trying to get the guys going off the bat,” Henderson said. “It can be tough. Coach (Mike) Metzger made me a captain my sophomore year, me and Nick Shiffler, it’s an honor. I’m not the best leader in the world, I do my best to try to get my guys together. Just keep the peace, motivate people, it comes down to everyone on the team wasn’t very hard to lead. My job wasn’t very hard, we all get along really well, it makes my job really easy.”

It helped that they won.

This Judge team made history. Winning a state championship isn’t easy. In the Catholic League, the only city team to win one was Neumann-Goretti. 

But Henderson doesn’t think the guys on this team will remember this year simply because they won. When you’re playing with your best friends, the games are memorable anyway.

“I think if we went 0-40 we would have stayed together, that’s just how we were,” Henderson said. “It’s so much chemistry. Winning obviously made it better, and we got to play together more because we kept winning. Next week we’re going to Harrisburg, we’re getting honored. We’ll stay together there, all summer, and when we get home from college, we’ll go to practices, hang out. We’ll never lose this bond.”

Henderson will be coming home from Lackawanna College, a JUCO in Scranton. He hopes to do well there, and get seen by a college scout.

“I knew absolutely nothing about it whatsoever, I never heard of it, but my travel coach gave me information about the school in the fall,” said Henderson, who was ranked in the top 10 percent of his senior class. “Their coach saw me play and we had mutual interest. I looked around and really liked the program. Then I realized they’re a top JUCO in the country. They lost in the semifinals. 

“I went up to visit, I had never been to Scranton. I knew The Office was from there, and I loved that. I went up, met the coach, and loved it. I can’t wait to get there.”

While the future could include something like physical therapy, he plans on taking his core classes at Lackawanna and then see what happens.

He’s sure he’ll love his new school, which is good because he certainly loves the situation he’s leaving.

He’ll never forget this run.

He’ll never forget the support.

But more than anything, he’ll never forget this team.

“Being with my boys definitely will be the thing I miss the most,” Henderson said. “Just the chemistry, the environment, the time we spend together, not just on the field. 

(Liam) Newhouse said it best in an article, we wake up and talking in our group chat, sending videos. We see each other in school, practice, after that we’re going out to eat, let’s eat, hit or take some ground balls. We’re always together. Playing basketball on weekends. We are always together. I’ll miss that so much.”

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