Helena falls to Hillcrest, season ends in first round of the playoffs

By GRAHAM BROOKS / Staff Writer

TUSCALOOSA – For the first time in two years, the Helena Huskies will not be making a trip to Montgomery to compete for a Class 6A baseball state title.

Helena made a late push in the regular season to finish strong and earn a spot in the playoffs after defeating Pelham in a play-in game, but on Saturday, April 20, the Huskies ran into a tough Hillcrest team who defeated Helena 8-3 and 15-3 in the first round of the 6A state playoffs in the best of three series.

Although Helena made an early exit in the postseason, it still marked the fifth straight season the Huskies have made a trip to the playoffs since becoming a program in 2015.

Below are recaps of how both games went down with Hillcrest:

Game 1. Hillcrest 8 – Helena 3

Originally scheduled for Friday, April 19, the first two games of the series were pushed back a day because of inclement weather and Hillcrest was the team that got off to a fast start, scoring at least one run in each of the first five innings to pull away for an 8-3 win in game one.

Hillcrest pounded out 14 hits as a team as five Patriots finished with multi-hit games led by Walt Bailey. Bailey went 3-for-3 with a double and two home runs to finish with four RBIs and three runs scored.

After Hillcrest took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning, Helena’s Will Griffith tied things up in the bottom half of the frame on a solo home run.

It’s as close as the Huskies would get however as the Patriots scored single runs in the second and third innings to take a 3-1 lead and built upon the two-run lead in the fourth inning.

Bailey’s first home run of the game was a leadoff solo shot to left field to make it 4-1 and later in the fourth inning an RBI double by Kash Ryan extended the Patriots lead to 5-1.

In the fifth inning, Hillcrest essentially put the game out of reach thanks to another big swing from Bailey. With two on and one out, Bailey stepped to the plate and hit his second home run of the game, this time a three-run blast to extend the Patriots lead to 8-1.

Helena was able to tack on two runs in the final inning but the deficit was too great to overcome as the Huskies fell 8-3.

Helena finished with 11 hits as a team but left 10 runners on base. Another factor in the loss was Helena’s struggles on the mound as the Huskies used three pitchers in game one.

On the other side, Hillcrest starting pitcher Garrett McMillan had a fantastic outing falling just one out shy of a complete game. He struck out seven batters and allowed three earned runs on 118 pitches.

Game 2. Hillcrest 15 – Helena 3

Needing a win in game two to force a decisive game three, Helena kept the game within reach until a huge sixth inning by Hillcrest ended any hope of a comeback.

Helena trailed 5-3 as the game headed to the top of the sixth inning and unfortunately for Helena, a brutal inning ensued as Hillcrest scored 10 runs largely because of miscues by the Huskies.

In the sixth inning alone, Helena pitching allowed a hit by pitch, six walks, two singles and two wild pitches.

After all was said and done, the Patriots lead grew to 15-3 and Hillcrest pitcher Christian Jones struck out the side in the bottom of the sixth inning to end the game and clinch the series.

Four Helena pitchers combined to walk 14 batters in the loss, but allowed just seven hits.

After shining on the mound in game one for Hillcrest, McMillan did damage with his bat in game two finishing 2-for-2 with three RBIs and two walks. McMillan’s two hits were a double and a home run.

Helena finished the season 18-17 as Hillcrest improved to 26-3 on the year.