Helena baseball aims to defend 6A state title in 2018

By GRAHAM BROOKS / Staff Writer

HELENA–It’s safe to say that the Helena High School varsity baseball program is no longer overlooked or perceived as the new team on the block as they enter year No. 4 in 2018 under head coach P.J. Guy.

In the first three seasons, the Huskies reached two state championship series in 2015 and 2017 and have already accumulated 100 wins in their short program history.

In 2017, the Huskies broke through to win their first state championship by defeating Cullman in a best-of-three game series for the 6A state championship.

With a blue map now in the trophy case, new faces will look to create their own legacy in 2018 as the Huskies enter their second season in Class 6A Area 8.

“For me it’s exciting,” Guy said. “It’s my fourth year here, but it’s really the first time I’m going to put a different team out there. It’s real exciting as a coaching staff to know there’s a lot of unknowns, but excitement to kind of see what these kids can do, and we’re pumped up about it.”

Helena loses a total of 10 seniors from the 2017 state championship team including first-team All-County pitcher and state championship game MVP Troy Cordrey, first-team All-County catcher Sam Praytor, first-team All-County centerfielder Nash Adams and second-team All-County pitcher Riley Davis.

While this may seem like a big drop off in production, the Huskies have plenty of talented seniors back in 2018, including two future SEC pitchers that will anchor the starting pitching rotation.

“We think the best thing coming into the year will be the top of our pitching rotation with guys like Landon Green to come back with the way he pitched for us and his role he had for us last year,” Guy said. “Then getting Richard Fitts back who didn’t pitch for us at all last year after an arm injury is a huge plus, and we’re excited for him to kind of get himself back in the rotation. We’re going to really look to them two to kind of help us at the top of the rotation and their leadership.”

Green has committed to the University of Alabama, while Fitts has committed to play at rival Auburn University. In 2017, Green went 11-0 and posted an ERA of 1.44 for the Huskies and struck out 44 batters in just 48.1 innings pitched.

Behind the plate for the Huskies in 2018 will be Shelton State commit Nick Ragsdale. Ragsdale spent the majority of his first three seasons playing outfield while backing up Praytor behind the plate. This year, he will take the reins behind the plate as he looks to be a vocal leader on the field and in the dugout. Ragsdale held an average of .333 with 34 RBIs after hitting 10 doubles and four home runs in 2017.

Other seniors the Huskies will count on on the mound include Brooks Tolbert and Josh Daughtery, who Guy said both will play a bigger role pitching this season.

The rest of the roster includes plenty of young players that will be thrown in the fire early as Helena will play tough competition the first month of the season in preparation for area play.

“Our biggest thing is we feel like our culture of our program that we’ve created in the past three years is going to play a big part coming into this year,” Guy said. “I believe in culture, and at the end of the day that beats talent. I think we’ve created a really good culture in our program with the players we’ve had in the past and the current ones we have now. It’s been fun to see our new guys who have come into our program this year and to see them really excited and hungry to be a part of it.”

Opening day will be Monday, Feb. 19, as the Huskies will take on Huntsville and Hoover at Helena High School. Other pivotal games on the schedule include games with Buckhorn, Grissom, Thompson, Homewood, Bob Jones, a rematch with Cullman on March 6, Fayette, Vestavia, Opelika, Hartselle, Auburn and Saraland before area play begins on March 20.

The Helena varsity baseball roster consists of Luke Stamba, Landon Leake, Green, John Cuyler Camp, Blake Howard, Colton Hood, Fitts, Black McAbee, Tristen Waters, Nick Thompson, Lawson Peoples, Tolbert, TJ Santos, McCall Caruso, Stephen Smith, Daugherty, Trevor Bell, John Stephen Heacock and Ragsdale.