Helena baseball splits opening day double-header

By GRAHAM BROOKS / Staff Writer

HELENA–After hoisting the Class 6A state championship trophy more than nine months ago, it was time for the Helena High School varsity baseball team to create a new legacy as Monday, Feb. 19, marked the start of a new season.

The Huskies had a difficult task on opening day as they faced off against two great 7A programs in a double-header.

Helena began the day taking on Huntsville where a late-inning rally gave the Huskies a 5-2 win. In the night cap, Helena struggled to push runs across in a difficult 6-0 loss to open the season 1-1. Below are recaps of how both games went down.

Game 1. Helena 5 – Huntsville 2

Well, the moment had finally arrived. After months of scrimmages, workouts and practices against each other, it was time for Helena to play a team wearing a different jersey.

In the first game of the season, Helena finished strong as a go-ahead three run double in the bottom of the sixth inning helped propel the Huskies to a 5-2 victory.

In the bottom of the first inning, Helena took advantage of back-to-back walks to open the inning. After a sacrifice bunt to move the runners into scoring position, Nick Ragsdale hit an infield RBI to score Trevor Bell to make it 1-0 Huskies.

On the mound for Helena, senior Richard Fitts was impressive in his first start after coming back from an arm injury last season. Fitts allowed just five hits and two runs in 4.2 innings pitched. Fitts struck out three and finished with one earned run.

Despite allowing just two runs, the Helena offense went stagnant in the middle innings and trailed Huntsville 2-1 late.

In the bottom of the sixth, Helena had one on with two outs when Fitts began a two-out rally. Fitts singled to right field and the next batter up Luke Stamba drew a walk that loaded the bases.

Josh Daugherty then cleared the bases on a three-RBI double to center field to score Ragsdale, Fitts and Luke Stamba to make it 4-2 Helena. The inning was capped off with an RBI single by John Stephen Heacock to score Blake McAbee to give Helena the 5-2 lead for good.

“It was huge; they threw their No. 1 guy who is going to Mississippi State and he was really good,” Helena head coach P.J. Guy said. “We didn’t get any hits off of him but we walked seven times through five innings. We really put a lot of pressure on him to get hard outs. I thought we were putting together a lot of quality at bats and guys were really grinding and working hard. In the sixth we had two outs and had some guys in the bottom of our lineup who really just went up and had some really great at bats. Daugherty who’s our nine-hole hitter steps up and hits a double to clear the bases so it was the little things that I was really proud to see. A lot of guys out there have a lot of youth and don’t have experience in varsity games and to see that I thought was encouraging.”

After hitting the go-ahead double, Daugherty also got things done on the mound to record the win.

Daugherty recorded the last seven outs and allowed just two hits on 25 pitches to start the season off on the right foot for the Huskies.

Game 2. Hoover 6 – Helena 0

Game two of the double-header featured plenty of storylines as defending 6A state champion Helena took on defending 7A state champion Hoover.

After being swept 3-0 by Helena a season ago, the Buccaneers would get their revenge to open the 2018 season with a 6-0 shutout win.

Three Hoover pitchers combined to throw a shutout against the Huskies as Griffin Lape, Connor Campbell and Sonny DiChiara kept Helena batters guessing on 98 pitches.

Lape picked up the win for Hoover after pitching four shutout innings. Lape struck out nine and allowed just two hits. Campbell and DiChiara threw a combined no-hitter over the final three innings to send the Bucs home happy.

DiChiara also led Hoover at the plate going 3-for-3 with two RBIs–One coming on a single in the third inning to put the Bucs up 2-0 and the last coming in the seventh inning on an RBI double to centerfield to make it 6-0.

Helena had a tough time at the plate striking out 12 times. The Huskies struck out at least once in every inning except the bottom of the fifth.

A scary moment also took place in the bottom of the fifth when Hoover catcher Peyton Wilson went down after being hit with a ball behind home plate. The game would be delayed several minutes as paramedics arrived at the field to assist Wilson.

“First, our thoughts and prayers are with the young man who got hurt,” Guy said. “It was scary and kind of a first for me to see someone lose consciousness two times at home plate but I thought the home plate umpire did an incredible job catching him and not letting him fall. Our training staff and everyone that was here kind of working together, I thought it was cool to come together and help that young man out.”

In the end, Helena couldn’t muster enough offense to spark a comeback as Guy said the game really came down to five or six pitches the Huskies couldn’t convert on.

Next up, Helena will play another double-header on Saturday, Feb. 24, as they will travel to Hoover to take on Buckhorn and Grissom.