Helena baseball falls short of defending title with tough loss to Hazel Green

By GRAHAM BROOKS / Staff Writer

MONTGOMERY – The Hazel Green Trojans got to feel the thrill and exhilaration of winning its first baseball state championship in program history as they held on to shutout Helena 1-0 in the final game of a best-of-three series on Friday, May 18, at Montgomery’s Riverwalk Stadium.

Just one year ago, Helena felt that same thrill as they hoisted the Class 6A state championship trophy for the first time but the opportunity to repeat fell short as the Huskies lost game three by merely a run.

In a series that ended with both teams scoring six runs each over the course of three games, here’s a recap of Helena’s run to a 6A runner-up finish:

Game 1. Hazel Green 4 – Helena 3

The Helena Huskies varsity baseball team found itself in an awfully similar situation in the Class 6A baseball state championship after dropping a tough opening game by a score of 4-3 to Hazel Green on Thursday, May 17.

If the Huskies wanted to defend their 6A state championship, they would have to do it the hard way by winning the next two games just like they did in 2017 to defeat Cullman.

The Huskies just couldn’t break through offensively as they left eight runners on base and never got enough timely hits to get an opening game victory.

Helena did get on the scoreboard first however as Landon Green hit an RBI-double to score John Stephen Heacock to make it 1-0 but trouble loomed in the bottom half of the second inning.

Helena starting pitcher Richard Fitts had trouble in the frame allowing four singles. In addition, Helena committed two errors which led to Hazel Green taking a 4-1 lead.

Incredibly, after the rough second inning, Fitts went on to strikeout 10 Hazel Green batters over the final four innings and allowed no hits.

Helena made it a one-run game in the top of the fifth inning by scoring on a Trojan error and ground out.

Helena’s best chance to tie or take the lead came an inning later as the Huskies had runners at second and third with one out but they were left stranded as a strike out and fly out ended the inning.

In the final inning, Heacock hit a two out single but was left stranded as Hazel Green pitcher Hunter McGriff struck out Landon Peoples looking for the final out of the game.

Despite the tough second inning, Fitts went on to record 13 strikeouts on 101 pitches.

Game 2. Helena 3 – Hazel Green 1

For Helena to be successful and push the Class 6A state championship series to a third game, the Huskies needed a strong performance from starting pitcher Landon Green and Green delivered in a big way.

Coming in at 11-1 on the season, Green picked up his twelfth win against the Trojans after going seven complete innings while allowing just one run on six hits.

Hazel Green countered with Jackson Minor on the mound but didn’t find the same success as Minor was chased from the game after just two and one thirds. He allowed two runs on four hits while picking up the loss.

At the plate, Helena’s John Stephen Heacock had a nice game as he picked up two RBIs and went 2-for-3 to lead the Huskies.

Heacock scored Brody Moss from third in the bottom of the first inning on a two out single up the middle to make it 1-0 Helena.

Two innings later, Hazel Green tied the game on a sacrifice fly to centerfield to make it 1-1.

Helena responded quickly in the bottom of the third inning as Heacock came through again with an RBI-single to score Fitts to give the Huskies the 2-1 lead. Another RBI-single in the bottom of the fourth inning gave the Huskies a 3-1 lead that they held on for good.

After retiring the side in order in the fifth inning, Green got out of a big jam in the sixth inning as he forced Hazel Green to hit into an inning-ending double play to keep the 3-1 lead for the Huskies.

In the final inning, Green got two quick outs and worked around a two out single to cap off the complete game.

“I didn’t have my best stuff today but I thought I competed really well,” Green said after his game two win. “I was just trying to get ahead of batters and it ended up working out well.”

Game 3. Hazel Green 1 – Helena 0

In the final game to decide the 6A state champion, Hazel Green put the ball in starting pitcher Tyler Duskin’s hand and rode him an entire seven innings en route to the Trojans first state championship in school history.

Duskins threw a complete game shutout and allowed just five hits to pick up the win as Helena couldn’t get timely hits when it mattered most.

On the opposite side, Helena pitchers Brooks Tolbert and Josh Daugherty also had spectacular outings as they combined to throw seven innings of three-hit baseball. Unfortunately, Hazel Green’s lone run in the top of the fourth inning proved to be the deciding run as Jordan Beck came through with an RBI-single to score Bradley Hulin.

The Huskies had chances, but Duskin continued to battle back and never flinched.

The biggest example of this was when Duskin ran into trouble in the fourth and fifth innings.

In the fourth, Fitts hit a single up the middle but advanced to second on an errant throw to first as the Huskies had a runner in scoring position with one out. Duskin was able to buckle down however and recorded two straight ground outs to keep it a 1-0 game.

In the following inning, Green led off with a bloop single down the first base line. Moments later, Duskin turned and fired to first in a pickoff attempt but was called for a balk as Green was able to advance to second with no outs.

A sacrifice bunt then put Green at third with one out as Helena was now in position to tie the game but the biggest momentum shift soon followed.

Duskin was able to record back-to-back strikeouts of Daugherty and Colton Hood to get out of the jam as the Trojans clung to the one-run lead.

Helena stranded two more runners in the sixth and in the final inning the Huskies were unable to bring the tying run home.

Luke Stamba hit a single past a diving Hulin with one out in the bottom of the seventh but Duskin got Daugherty to pop up in foul territory for the second out and Colton Hood to fly out to right field for the final out as the Trojans celebrated the state title.

After the game, Helena head coach P.J. Guy gave all the glory to God for blessing him with a program like Helena and praised the work his seniors have put in the last four years.

“I don’t know what else to say except that I love them,” Guy said. “Players can move on without their coaches for the most part but coaches can’t do it without their players and I’m really just hurting that I’m done with these 10 guys and I’m just so proud of what they’ve done in four years. They’re a class example of guys that have put the Helena logo on their chest and made that first and made themselves second, and to be quite honest, that’s hard to find.”

Helena finished the season with a record of 27-16.

Photos available at Shelbycountyphotos.com