Huskies top Chelsea for area championship, both advance to regionals

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor

HELENA – It took just two wins for the Helena Huskies to capture the 2017 Class 6A Area 8 softball championship as they started the postseason with a bang. Those two wins came over defending 6A state champion Chelsea as the Huskies have established themselves as a legitimate contender for the 2017 state championship.

Being the regular season area champs meant Helena got the one seed heading into the area tournament allowing them a bye in the first round of action. This meant they were one win away from advancing in the postseason and they took advantage on Tuesday, May 2, by downing the Hornets in a close 4-2 affair.

After Chelsea staved off elimination by downing Pelham for the second time in the tournament 8-2, the Huskies and Hornets squared off yet again on Wednesday, May 3. With both teams now safely in the postseason, the focus of each was solely on winning an area championship and the desire by both squads was apparent throughout.

In the first inning of the game, Helena jumped all over the visiting Hornets by putting a four spot on the board. The inning started with back-to-back singles from Tamar Watts and Chaney Handley, which was followed by a walk from Grace Robertson to load the bases. A single on the second pitch of Katie Lively’s at bat brought in both Watts and Handley to give the Huskies a 2-0 lead with no outs yet to be recorded.

Chelsea was able to get two straight groundouts in the next to at bats, but each out also brought home a run as Helena had stormed out in front to take a 4-0 lead after one inning.

The Hornets tried to threaten for the first time in the top of the third, but a crucial double play by the Huskies ended any threat. Helena came back to the plate in the bottom half and took advantage of the good fortune.

With one out in the inning, Mekhi Mayfield, Mackenzie Wilson and Maggie Blanton strung together three consecutive singles, the latter of which brought Mayfield home to extend the Huskies’ lead to 5-0 after three innings of play.

Chelsea answered in the top of the fourth with the longest inning of the game as their offense finally awoke bringing a game-high nine batters to the plate. They used three singles, a double, a fielder’s choice and an error to bring home three runs and trim the Helena lead to 5-3 as they had quickly gotten right back into the game.

In the bottom half, after a double from Megan Fortson and a walk from Watts to start the inning, Robertson tried to take Chelsea’s momentum and squash it like a bug as she bombed a ball over the left field wall to give the Huskies an 8-3 lead as they went back up by five.

After a quiet fifth inning, things got interesting again in the sixth and seventh thanks to a late charge by the Hornets.

They put together the second longest inning of the game bringing eight batters to the plate in the sixth. Back-to-back doubles from Allie Miller and Brooke Burback were key in the inning as Burback’s double brought home both Miller and Skylar Baker. Burback later came around to score herself when Lexi Serio singled on a hard ground ball to center field. All of a sudden the Hornets were within two trailing 6-8.

Chelsea shut down Helena in order in the bottom of the inning and came back to the plate in the top of the seventh with one last chance to tie or take the lead.

Sarah Cespedes stepped to the plate to lead off the inning and on the third pitch, in a 1-1 count, she caught a ball perfectly on the sweet spot of the bat that sailed over the left field wall for a lead-off home run as the Hornets were within one run. Unfortunately for Chelsea, that’s as close as they were able to get as that home run was followed by two straight outs. After Miller singled to keep some hope alive, Burback grounded out to third base to end the game.

The Hornets were led by Miller and Burback at the plate. Miller went 3-for-5 with one RBI, while Burback went 2-for-5 with two RBIs. Nine Hornets had a hit including six with multi-hit games.

Helena was led by Robertson’s home run as she went 1-for-3 with three RBIs and two runs scored. Lively also had a nice game in the box going 2-for-3 with two RBIs and a run scored.

Both teams advance to regionals in Troy May 11-13, and both have a strong chance to be the two from the bracket that advance to the state tournament the following week.

See more images at www.shelbycountyphotos.com