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High Schools - Former Cherokee star awaits his fate in baseball draft

The bedroom of Chris Henderson will be his bunker next week, where he will arm himself with a computer, television and crossed fingers. He also will be accompanied by a nauseated stomach.

The bedroom of Chris Henderson will be his bunker next week, where he will arm himself with a computer, television and crossed fingers. He also will be accompanied by a nauseated stomach.

"I told my mom [Sue] that I'm going into my room with the door locked," Henderson said.

The reason he craves solitary confinement? The major league baseball draft, of course.

Henderson, a 5-11, 190-pound catcher from Marlton, N.J., just completed his junior season at George Mason University after a stellar career at Cherokee High. And it was no ordinary season for Henderson. In fact, it was quite extraordinary.

In helping the Patriots to a 42-14 record and a spot in the regionals of NCAA Tournament (they were eliminated last weekend), Henderson hit .413 with 22 doubles, 14 home runs, 58 RBI and scored 70 runs. His 97 hits set GMU's season record. He was the Colonial Athletic Association's co-player of the year (with teammate Scott Krieger), the first player in school history to receive a first-team All-America honor (Louisville Slugger NCAA Division I All-America team) and is one of 16 semifinalists for the Dick Howser Trophy, presented to the top player in college baseball. The three finalists will be announced on June 13 and the winner on July 2. On Wednesday, Henderson was named one of three finalists for the Johnny Bench Award, given to the nation's top defensive catcher. That winner will be named on June 26.

All of which has made Henderson a hot topic when it comes to the draft, which will take place Tuesday through Thursday.

"I've talked to a lot of scouts," Henderson said. "They seem to think I might fall anywhere between the sixth and the 10th rounds. I'll have my fingers crossed."

Henderson's hitting has never been a question mark, not since he first showed up to play at Cherokee.

"From the day he came to Cherokee his freshman year, Chris could always hit," said Cherokee head coach Marc Petragnani, an assistant coach during Henderson's time with the Chiefs. "There were never questions about his being able to swing the bat. He was always ahead of everyone there."

In being named all-state as a senior, Henderson hit .490 for the Chiefs, with five home runs and a school-record 44 RBI. He has continued his offensive prowess at George Mason, but also made himself into a more complete player.

"We knew when we recruited him that he was going to be a kid that offensively could play right away," longtime George Mason coach Bill Brown said. "We knew he would hit and hit for average. We thought as time evolved he could catch, but he wasn't the everyday catcher for us right away. He had someone ahead of him, and he caught once in a while as a freshman.

"His offensive skills have always been solid. He's developed some power, and what has put him over the top is his progress behind the plate. He handles pitchers and has developed a very good arm. Hitting has always come naturally for him, but he's worked very hard at his defense. Technically, he's incredibly solid. Chris can play at the next level. We had a catcher here, Chris Widger, from Pennsville, who had a nice 9-year career in the majors. You have to be special to do that. Chris is special."

His work ethic and appetite for knowledge were shown early on at Cherokee.

"I broke my hand in a scrimmage game just before the season started my freshman year," Henderson said. "I was out for 4 weeks, but I learned so much during that time. [Former] coach [Bill] Haessler taught me how to call games, and I watched and learned."

"During that time, he sat with the coaches and watched us call pitches and how we threw to hitters, things like that," Petragnani said. "I remember during his time here, the big hitters never hurt us. Chris knew them and knew where to throw them. The coaches never called a pitch during a game after his sophomore year. We let him do it."

Which is something he has also done the past two seasons at George Mason. During his college career, he has missed only two of 162 games.

His time at George Mason might be over now, depending on when his name is called during next week's draft.

"I always knew baseball was my passion," said Henderson, who also starred as an inside linebacker for the Chiefs. "Obviously, you never know how stuff is going to play out in the draft. If the situation is right, if I get drafted early enough, I want to play pro ball. If it all works out, I'll sign a contract and play. But if it doesn't, I still get to go back to George Mason and play another year and finish college. That's a really great choice to have." *