Reese’s walk-off home run highlights emotional week for Hampton softball

Saturday, May 7, 2022 | 11:01 AM

Hampton sophomore Mackenzie Reese was looking for an inside pitch in the bottom of the eighth inning against Seneca Valley on April 22.

She got it, and with one swing of the bat, she did something Ron Fedell had never experienced in 24 seasons as Hampton softball coach.

Reese drove Seneca Valley freshman Lexie Hames’ two-strike pitch over the wall at Hampton Community Park to give the Talbots a come-from-behind 5-4 walk-off nonsection victory.

Fedell said it was the first walk-off home run in his nearly quarter-century as coach.

“It was amazing,” Reese said. “(Hames) is one of my good friends. I grew up playing against her since we were younger. She usually pitches me inside, so I was ready for an inside pitch.”

Fedell said he realized the significance of the home run as Reese rounded third base, where he was standing as coach.

“It was special for me, and it just lifted the team up so much,” he said. “We’ve had (walk-off) RBIs and things like that, but never a walk-off home run. … It was just surreal for me.”

Reese, who plays first base and bats clean up, had also homered in the second inning. The Talbots overcame a 4-1 deficit and forced extra innings when senior catcher Bella Henzler tripled and scored on a throwing error on the play with two outs in the bottom of the seventh.

Reese’s dramatic home run came during a late April surge in which she hit four home runs in a three-game span. She also went deep in a 5-2 victory over Shaler on April 25 and in a 13-10 loss to North Hills on April 27.

She credits her power display to some recent work with Henzler’s dad, Kurt, a former Shaler baseball standout.

“He’s helping me get with my bottom half better and with my stepping,” said Reese, who is batting around .400. “It’s helping with my timing and seeing the ball better. It is definitely having more power in my swing.”

Reese typically plays catcher for her travel teams. But when she arrived on Hampton varsity last spring as a freshman, she realized one thing with James Madison-bound Henzler behind the plate.

“I knew … that I will definitely have to find a different position to play,” Reese said.

She began playing first base for the first time and did well enough to earn the starting job as a ninth-grader. She has become more comfortable in the field, while improving at the plate after a solid freshman season.

“She showed flashes of power last year,” Fedell said. “She was a freshman. She’s a year older and even when she makes outs, she’s hitting the ball hard.”

Reese has helped Hampton (4-6 overall, 3-6 in section as of May 2) move to the verge of clinching a fourth straight postseason berth for the first time in program history.

For certain, her walk-off home run against Seneca Valley came during an emotional week for the Talbots.

The Talbots lost to Fox Chapel, 15-0, in four innings on Senior Day on April 29. Fedell estimated the Talbots had nine errors in their most lopsided defeat since a 20-3 loss to West Allegheny in May 2017 and their most lopsided shutout loss in at least 18 years.

But that loss meant nothing compared to what one of their teammates was going through.

Henzler was coping with the loss of Lauren Bernett, a former South Fayette star and sophomore catcher at James Madison who died of an apparent suicide in late April. The Talbots and North Hills players posed for a photo together prior to their April 27 game to honor Bernett and wore purple ribbons — JMU’s color — in their hair. Henzler, one of the WPIAL’s top catchers, will attend JMU in the fall on a Division I softball scholarship.

“It was definitely a very emotional week,” Reese said. “Bella was really upset. We tried to pick her up.”

Said Fedell, “We were very concerned with Bella. She is a happy-go-lucky kid and I’ve never seen her upset except when this happened. … She is still dealing with it and getting over it. We are there for her. But it’s a tough thing right now.”


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