Written by Matt Wixon
Wixon: Toughness, talent, leadership … Hebron senior softball star Chelsea Herndon’s got it all
CARROLLTON — With her team trailing by two runs and down to its final out in last year’s playoffs, Hebron’s Chelsea Herndon stepped to the plate. With the season on the line, most players would feel weak in the knees.
But Herndon is not like most players.
“She wants to be in that position,” Hebron coach Staci Jackson said. “I think she actually thrives in that position.”
Herndon did last year, when she turned that potential final out into a Hebron celebration when she blasted a three-run homer in the Class 5A Region I quarterfinals.
Now a senior, the second baseman calls that home run the second-best moment from more than a decade of playing softball.
The best moment for Herndon, who last season hit .394 with four home runs and 28 RBIs to help Hebron advance to the 5A Region I final, was signing with softball powerhouse Florida.
“For all that hard work and dedication,” she said, “you get a prize for it.”
The size of the prize is something Herndon didn’t expect a year ago. Most top high school softball players attract a lot of recruiting interest before they are juniors, but by midway through her junior year, Herndon wasn’t getting much attention.
It wasn’t until the playoffs, and while playing with her TFS select team last summer, that schools such as Florida (NCAA runner-up in 2009 and ’11) and Washington (national champ in ’09) began recruiting her.
“It all happened last year. That was the big boom,” Herndon said. “It was kind of overwhelming but also exciting.”
Part of the reason Herndon was overlooked is that she’s young. She won’t turn 18 until this summer, and although she is 5-8 now, she used to be smaller than most of her teammates.
“I was always the little kid who was underestimated because I was so tiny,” Herndon said. “They were like, ‘She doesn’t have arm strength, she doesn’t have this or that.’”
What Herndon does have, and has had for years, is toughness. As a freshman, Herndon was a “skinny little stick,” Jackson said. But when she was pitching for the junior varsity team that season, she surprised her coach.
A batter hit a drive back at Herndon, who wasn’t able to get a glove on the ball and was drilled in the leg. Jackson, who was a varsity assistant at the time and coaching the JV team, walked to the pitcher’s circle.
“I thought she was really hurt. She had tears rolling down from her eyes,” Jackson said. “And she’s like, ‘I’m good to go. I’m going to keep pitching.’”
Herndon will do some pitching this season, but she’ll mostly lead the Hebron defense from second base. She’s quiet by nature, but her coaches are encouraging her to become a more vocal leader like Heather Stearns, the 2012 Gatorade Texas Softball Player of the Year, who is now at Baylor.
Taking a bigger leadership role might add a little pressure, but Herndon has proven she can handle it.
“She has no fear,” Jackson said. “That’s the best way I can describe her. She’s the kid that I want up when we have two outs and the game is on the line.”
Follow Matt Wixon on Twitter @mattwixon