Dave Hughes grinned the way an honest person does when he can't lie in response to a leading question.

"I was a little tired," the West Chester Henderson pitcher said yesterday.

It was the top of the sixth inning, and Hughes had been on cruise control until that point. But West Chester East had just tagged the righthander for three runs and had runners on first and second with one out.

Henderson coach Luke McNichol knew that Hughes was spent, the Vikings knew that Hughes was flailing, and - most of all - Hughes knew that he didn't have it.

"It was time for me to come out and let someone else come in," Hughes said.

That someone - Alex Miller - induced a ground ball to third baseman Hiron Gonzalez, who stepped on third and fired to first for the inning-ending double play. Henderson went on to hand top-ranked East its first loss, 5-3, in Ches-Mont League action.

Hughes picked up the win, Miller the hold and Steven McCardell - who moved over from first base for a perfect seventh - the save as Henderson (9-3, 7-3 league) inched closer to East (11-1, 9-1) in the always-difficult Ches-Mont.

"We wanted to make a statement here that we can go against anybody," said Hughes, a first-year varsity pitcher. "We still have five games left to make up ground."

The workman-like Hughes exited after 51/3 innings of work despite throwing just 71 pitches. He didn't walk a batter, allowing three runs on seven hits.

"He flat-out attacks the zone," McNichol said. "But into the sixth they started catching up on some of his pitches."

For five innings, though, East - ranked No. 1 in Southeastern Pennsylvania by The Inquirer - and its explosive lineup was tepid.

The Warriors, meanwhile, pounced on Vikings ace Dave Koczirca.

The Villanova-bound righthander was tattooed in the first inning after recording the first two outs. He allowed four runs off six hits, with Gonzalez (two-RBI single) delivering the first blow.

In the fourth, the two-out curse jinxed Koczirca again when leftfielder Drew Constable (2 for 3) doubled home Drew Cost.

"The bottom line is [Koczirca] left some balls up and they took advantage of it," East coach Dean Owens said. "That's a good hitting team, one through nine."

The Warriors also are solid with the leather. They didn't commit an error, fielding every out. Constable, who is headed to Bucknell on a scholarship, made a fine extra-base-stealing grab in the fifth.

"It helps knowing I can just let our defense do the work," said Hughes, who credited a two-seam fastball for nine groundouts. "And then I can just hit my spots and keep [the batters] off balance."

W.C. East 000 003 0 - 3 7 2

W.C. Henderson 400 100 x - 5 8 0

WP: Dave Hughes. LP: Dave Koczirca. SV: Steven McCardell. 2B: E-Matt Schreffler, Brett DeFelice, Bobby Jacobs. H-Drew Cost, Drew Constable.

Contact staff writer Jeff McLane

at 215-854-4745 or jmclane@phillynews.com.