Helena baseball defeats Hillcrest in semifinals, look to defend 6A title

By GRAHAM BROOKS / Staff Writer

HELENA – For the third time in four seasons, the Helena Huskies varsity baseball team will be heading back to Montgomery to compete for a state championship and have a chance to repeat after defeating Hillcrest 6-4 in the final game of the best-of-three series on Saturday, May 12.

Helena head coach P.J. Guy credited his class of 10 seniors as being the bedrock and a big reason why the Huskies are heading back to Montgomery.

“It’s a team effort but I’m just so proud of our seniors,” Guy said. “We have a class of 10 guys this year that have been here since year one and the first full class we’ve ever had. They’ve kind of evolved and always been under the radar because of the class from last year. I told them ‘you’ve been the most overlooked class since you’ve been here’ but I’m just so proud of them just for coming out and creating their own team and their own identity. That was the one thing we said early on this year is that we didn’t want to be last year’s team. This team has stayed the course and gotten better every week.”

This was the second straight season Helena eliminated Hillcrest in the 6A semifinals and also marks the second straight season Helena will play for a blue map in Class 6A after defeating Cullman one season ago.

After losing game one 6-1 on Friday, May 11, Helena needed to win the next two games in order to advance to the state championship series. The Huskies were able to even the series in game two by defeating Hillcrest 9-2 which brought up a decisive game three the following day.

Here’s how things went in the winner-take-all game three:

Helena wasted no time getting on the scoreboard early as the Huskies jumped on Hillcrest pitcher Jay Bramblett for four runs in the bottom of the first inning.

Things got started after Bramblett issued two walks and a hit by pitch to load the bases with no outs.

Helena would push two runs across after a fielder’s choice by John Stephen Heacock and a sacrifice fly by Colton Hood.

However, with two outs in the inning, Landon Green delivered the biggest blow by hammering a ball to deep left field for a two-run home run to give the Huskies the 4-0 lead.

In the next inning, Helena continued to see the ball well off Bramblett as Trevor Bell hit a one out triple and came in to score on a Brody Moss RBI-double to make it 5-0. The inning was capped off by Nick Ragsdale who also had an RBI-double to score Moss extending the lead to 6-0.

After the game, Guy said Helena’s fast start was credited to not chasing pitches out of the strike zone.

“I thought our guys just did a good job the first two innings of not chasing pitches out of the strike zone,” Guy said. “I thought we did that early on and good some quality swings and then Landon obviously hitting the two-run home run was a huge thing for us.”

After getting the six-run cushion, it was up to Helena starting pitcher Brooks Tolbert to have a strong outing and he did more than enough on the mound to get the win.

Tolbert went five complete innings and allowed just two earned runs on six hits. He allowed a solo home run and an RBI-double but the biggest key to his success was getting out of a fifth inning jam.

After giving up the RBI-double in the top of the fifth inning, Helena led just 6-2 as Hillcrest had runners on second and third with no outs.

Tolbert was able to buckle down and recorded a strikeout, ground out and another strikeout to hold the four-run lead and keep the momentum on Helena’s side.

In the sixth inning, Josh Daugherty entered the game in relief of Tolbert and kept Patriot runners at first and second after recording a ground out, fielder’s choice and strikeout to keep it a 6-2 game.

With just three outs to go, Helena ran into some trouble in the top of the seventh, but Hillcrest couldn’t overcome the four-run deficit.

After allowing a two-RBI double to make it 6-4, Daugherty closed out the game by getting Patrick Hollyhand to strikeout looking as the Helena dugout exploded and celebrated with a dogpile after punching their ticket to state once again.

After the game, Guy was proud of the way both Tolbert and Daugherty’s performance on the mound.

“Those two guys, I hate to say it, but they’ve been the two overlooked arms this year,” Guy said. “But, those two guys all year long have really been quality for us for the innings they’ve put in and what they’ve done. We expected Brooks to do what he did. He came in and just gave us the performance of his life today and gave us a great chance. We knew that for us to be successful we also knew that Josh would have to finish the game for us. He’s had so many different roles this year and he’s just a mentally tough kid who just does his job. But I’m just proud of both of those guys.”

With the win, Helena advances to take on Hazel Green in the Class 6A state championship series beginning Thursday, May 17 at 7 p.m. in Montgomery. Hazel Green spoiled the chance of a Helena-Cullman finals rematch after defeating the Bearcats in the semifinals.

Helena defeated Hazel Green 7-2 in a regular season matchup earlier this year.