STATE CHAMPIONS: Helena sweeps Cullman on day two to win 6A title

By GRAHAM BROOKS / Staff Writer

MONTGOMERY–The old baseball cliché the last three outs are the toughest to get became a reality for the Helena Huskies baseball team on Friday, May 19, as they headed to the bottom of the seventh inning with a 5-1 lead in a winner-take-all game three against Cullman for the AHSAA 6A state championship.

Despite two Helena pitchers combining to hit three Cullman batters and walking three more, relief pitcher Brooks Brophy got Cullman’s Carter Bowen to fly out to left field with the bases loaded for the final out and Helena won the 6A state championship series in dramatic fashion.

Helena would need every bit of the four run lead as Cullman was oh so close to tying or winning the title with one swing of the bat in game three but the Huskies held on for the 5-4 win.

Helena was pounded 9-1 in game one in an error-filled game on Thursday, May 18, but came back and swept both games on Friday by scores of 3-2 and 5-4 to win its first baseball state championship. Helena starting pitcher Troy Cordrey was named MVP after pitching a three-hit complete game in game two of the series.

Here’s a recap of how each game unfolded for the two nationally ranked teams. All three games featured drama and lots of good baseball.

Game 1. Helena 1 – Cullman 9

Eight errors, two hits, one run and no strike outs and more than an hour weather delay basically sums up Helena’s 9-1 loss to Cullman on Thursday, May 18, in the first game of the AHSAA 6A State Championship series as the Huskies will need to quickly put the loss in the rearview mirror.

It was that kind of night for Helena, as the Huskies uncharacteristically committed careless errors that began to pile up to give Cullman starting pitcher Jacob Heatherly more than enough run support as he threw six and one third innings of two-hit baseball. He had no strikeouts and issued four walks, but in the end he had more than enough to get the win for Cullman.

Cullman started hot with a leadoff single in the top of the first inning. A sacrifice bunt then moved the runner into scoring position with one out. After a couple of walks by Helena starting pitcher Riley Davis the bases were loaded and the Bearcats were in business. However, Davis got a pop fly for the second out and it looked as though he might get out of the jam. Trent Price then hit a hard hit ball to second baseman Landon Green who made a great diving stop but had trouble getting the ball out of his glove and over to first base which resulted in an errant throw. After the throw sailed, Noah Fondren and Owen Lovell both came around to score to make it 2-0 Bearcats.

The next inning was another solid frame for Cullman as Caleb Lipsey began the inning with a leadoff single. After a sacrifice bunt, the bottom of the second inning became eerily similar to the first. A walk and an error loaded the bases for Cullman and Lovell took advantage by hitting an RBI-double to score Lipsey and Fondren to make it 4-0. Heatherly then hit an RBI-single to make it 5-0 to give himself another insurance run.

Helena’s lone run in the ball game came in the top of the third inning on a bases loaded walk that scored Brophy to cut the lead to 5-1.

That would be as close as Helena would get as the Bearcats scored in every inning except the bottom of the fifth to take game one with ease at Paterson Field in Montgomery. The game was delayed for more than an hour in the middle of the fourth inning because of lightning in the area.

Helena head coach PJ Guy was disappointed in the outcome but also optimistic that his team will come out ready to compete on Friday.

“Just congratulations to Cullman. They came out and had a good plan and got off to a good start,” Guy said. “They’re a really great team and I don’t think we played to our potential defensively tonight obviously. They’re the type of team where you can’t give them more than three outs and they made us pay for it so you got to give them credit for taking advantage of when we made mistakes. The good thing about tonight is that nobody can win the state championship tonight, so we’re going to get back home, get a shower, get our bellies full and get back early in the morning and come out here tomorrow and compete.”

Lipsey went 3-for-4 at the plate with two runs scored and Lovell finished with two RBIs to lead the Bearcats.

On the mound for Helena, Davis had his shortest outing of the postseason. Davis gave up seven hits, allowed three earned runs and issued four walks in three innings.

“Proud of the way we came out and swung it early and kind of captured momentum and I was really proud of our bats,” Cullman head coach Brent Patterson said. “I thought we laid off some good, close pitches that were down in the zone and he (Davis) all year has been so good at getting double plays and getting ground balls in big situations and I was just really proud of the discipline that we showed.”

Game 2. Helena 3 – Cullman 2

Screams and cheers came from Helena’s dugout in the bottom of the seventh inning as Nick Ragsdale blasted a ball to the left field wall for a stand up leadoff double in game two of the AHSAA 6A state finals series.

The game was tied 2-2 and Helena needed a big inning to try and walk off in style to force a decisive game three for the 6A state championship.

They did just that, as Braylon Moss laid down a two-strike sacrifice bunt to advance pinch runner Lawson Peoples to third with one out. The winning run was now just 90 feet away.

Cullman starting pitcher Will Morrison had a fantastic day on the mound but faltered toward the end. Morrison went six and one third inning and allowed four hits and two earned runs. Helena’s final two runs came in the sixth and seventh innings.

Cullman pitcher Carter Bowen came into the game to relieve Morrison in the bottom of the seventh inning but pinch hitter Colton Hood spoiled any chance of an extra-innings affair.

Hood hit a bouncing ground ball to the right side of the infield and Cullman couldn’t field the ball cleanly, which allowed Peoples to slide in for the game-winning run for the 3-2 final.

“I never envisioned it being 3-2 with two outs and everyone on the bases taking off but you know what, me and coach Cummings my assistant we’ve always had a saying that when we’ve gone through some tough times we always just say ‘It means we’re going to win,’” Guy said after the game.

After committing eight errors the night before in game one, Helena was solid on defense in game two committing just one error. Starting pitcher Troy Cordrey was a big reason the Huskies had a chance to win game two.

Cordrey pitched a three-hit complete game while tallying six strike outs and gave up two earned runs in the top of the fourth inning.

“I just thought Troy was phenomenal in game one and we felt like he was actually a good match up,” Guy said. “We knew to get these guys off balance was to try to mix as much as we could and hit spots and we had to make routine plays.”

The Bearcats two runs came in the top of the fourth inning on a base hit by Bowen. Bowen tried to stretch a single into a double but was thrown out at second. In the process, Noah Fondren and Levi Thomas came around to score to put Cullman up 2-0.

Helena got a run back in the bottom of the fourth inning when Nash Adams hit into a fielder’s choice that scored Jake Busby, but arguably the biggest hit of the game came in the bottom of the sixth inning by Adams.

With two outs and Sam Praytor standing at third, Adams roped a single to right field to score Praytor to tie the game 2-2 which set up the walk-off win the next inning for Helena.

Adams led Helena at the plate going 1-for-3 with two RBIs.

Game 3. Helena 5 – Cullman 4

Well this was it. Not much needed to be said to either team about what was at stake in the winner-take-all game three for the 6A state championship.

A big key to the game would be solid pitching as Helena elected to go with Landon Green on the mound and Cullman countered with Levi Thomas. Green has been in more of a reliever role in the post season because the Huskies never faced a decisive game three prior to the state championship series. In game three, he was nearly untouchable for six innings.

Green pitched 6.2 innings and allowed just two hits with five strikeouts. The only blemish came in the bottom of the seventh inning where he hit three batters and issued a walk to get into a bit of a jam.

“We’ve kind of used Landon in the post season as a closer although he was a starter the majority of the year but during the playoff run we used him as a closer so that was actually his first start in a very long time,” Guy said. “He’s 11-0 on the year and just an incredible talent and just ran out of gas a little bit there at the end but was just trying to gut it out. Then, Brooks Brophy had to come in in a really tough spot. People sat there and said ‘Well, gosh he just threw eight straight balls’ but he’s 18-years-old and it’s not easy to put him in a spot we put him in.”

Brophy came in to try and record one of the toughest outs to earn a save and secure the Huskies a state championship and it wasn’t easy.

Brophy entered the game with Helena leading 5-2 and Cullman had the bases loaded down to their last out.

Brophy issued a four-pitch walk to the first batter he faced and all of a sudden, a comfortable four run cushion was cut in half and Cullman trailed 5-3.

Still, just one out was needed at any base but the trouble continued for Brophy facing Heatherly. Brophy issued another walk and it was 5-4 Helena with the bases still loaded.

As Bowen stepped into the batters box, he now had a chance to be a hero for Cullman as a well-hit ball would score two and give the Bearcats a walk-off win but fate wouldn’t have it.

Helena coaches, players and fans collectively held their breath as Bowen turned on a ball that carried to deep left field but waiting under it was Ragsdale to put a squeeze on it to secure the incredible 5-4 win.

“First thing I’ve got to do is thank God,” Guy said. “God has taken care of us and blessed us from day one and we serve a great God. He has blessed this program tremendously and since year one it hasn’t been easy. He’s put us in a lot of situations that have been tough to where we didn’t know if we were going to overcome but he’s been with us every day. If I don’t give credit to him then I don’t need to be here. Last night was a tough night but I knew they would come back and try to overcome last night because they always have and it’s a veteran group that has been here before and I’m just so proud of them and I love them so much.”

The turning point in the game came in the top of the fifth inning as the Huskies plated four runs and took advantage of some Cullman miscues to take the 5-1 lead.

Davis went 2-for-4 with two hits and a run scored. Green went 2-for-4 at the plate in addition to his solid outing on the mound.

Helena featured a number of seniors and juniors on the roster and Cordrey said it was a great feeling going out as champions.

“We didn’t want to come up short, that’s for sure,” Cordrey said of winning a state championship after coming up short two years ago. “This was our last chance and we’ve got a great group of juniors that have helped us out along the way and Ragsdale and Landon stepped up. They’ve been apart of us since year one and it was just an awesome feeling to be able to come back and win it. Just knowing that we didn’t want to come up short because coming up short is worse than even making it almost. Once you make it here you want to win it and not come up short.”

Helena finished the season with a record of 38-6.

See more photos from the championship game at www.shelbycountyphotos.com