Helena routs Wetumpka to advance to first Sweet 16 in school history

By GRAHAM BROOKS / Staff Writer

HELENA–For the first time in school history, the Helena Huskies boys basketball team will punch their ticket to Montgomery for the Sweet 16 after taking care of Wetumpka 61-46 in the Sub-Regional round of the playoffs on Tuesday, Feb. 13.

Unbelievably, the Huskies have already reached the 30-win mark this season compared to just two losses as they continue to play together as one unit.

Eleven different players recorded at least one basket in the scorebook for the Huskies against Wetumpka as a balanced attack coupled with sharp-shooting beyond the arc fueled the double-digit win.

As a team, Helena made 11 3-pointers as Wetumpka couldn’t keep the game in single-digits the last three and a half quarters.

Helena head coach Chris Laatsch thought his team executed well on both ends of the floor against a team capable of knocking down deep shots.

“I thought our guys executed really well tonight and got open looks,” Laatsch said. “I think we were 11-of-18 from the 3-point line as a team with multiple guys hitting them and that’s kind of what we’ve been for most of the year so I was really proud of that. Defensively, I thought our defenses were really good and I thought we made them take deep shots and they hit a lot of them but they were contested.”

Helena opened the game on a 7-0 run and never looked back in a game they never trailed.

Up 12-3 in the first quarter, Helena senior guard Justin Stuckey buried back-to-back 3-pointers to make it 18-4 Huskies. Wetumpka would bury a deep 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded to cut the lead to 18-7 but that was the Indians lone highlight in the first eight minutes.

Helena limited Wetumpka to six points in the second quarter to take a 28-13 halftime lead as the 3-pointers would continue to fall in the second half.

Senior Ben Rose had one of his better shooting nights and finished as the Huskies leading scorer with 13 points. Like Stuckey did in the first quarter, Rose opened the third quarter with back-to-back 3-pointers to extend the lead to 36-17. Stuckey would finish as the second-leading scorer with 12 points.

Helena took a 24-point lead into the final quarter but the Indians never gave up. Wetumpka would go on to finish the game with 11 3-pointers as a team as E.J. Rodgers led the way with four threes and 16 points to led all scorers.

It was too little too late however as the Indians could never establish an inside presence as Helena will now have a chance to avenge a loss in the playoffs from one year ago.

“It’s amazing when I think about it as far as what’s been accomplished in four years,” Laatsch said of the program. “This community has just embraced what we’re doing and these kids have embraced what we’re doing and they’re committed and sold out to it. It’s overwhelming and it’s really… I don’t know if I have words for it to be honest. More than that, I’m just so happy these kids get to experience something so many guys would like to experience and so many haven’t had a chance to. These guys have just competed and worked and grinded so hard and I’m just so overwhelmed with joy for them to get to experience the regional tournament.”

Helena will now meet defending 6A state champion Paul Bryant on Thursday, Feb. 15 at 1:30 p.m. at the Dunn-Oliver Acadome in Montgomery with a spot in the Elite Eight on the line. The Huskies lost 82-62 to Paul Bryant last year in the Sub-Regional round.

“I know these guys aren’t satisfied and they’ve got their eyes on bigger things,” Laatsch said. “We’ve got a tough opponent in Paul Bryant who eliminated us last year and they’re state champions and got everybody back. They’re very good but our guys will be excited for that opportunity.”