Helena takes down Chelsea to claim area championship

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor

HELENA – In a wild area tournament championship game that saw the Chelsea Hornets storm in front 4-1 through four innings of play, the Helena Huskies somehow found a way to score 11 runs between the fourth and seventh innings to pull off an 11-8 victory on Thursday, May 2, in front of the home crowd to claim the Class 6A Area 8 title.

After falling to the loser’s bracket after their first loss in the tournament, the Hornets had battled all the way back to clinch a spot in Regionals and set up a matchup with the Huskies, and early in the game they built off of that momentum.

It started with a leadoff single and error to put two runners aboard before an out was recorded. Following that first out, Camryn Smith doubled to center field to drive home the first run of the game. During the next at bat, Karson Rich hit a deep fly ball to center field that was deep enough for a sac fly to put the Hornets on top 2-0 at the end of one.

It took a while, but in the top of the fourth, Helena responded and cut the deficit in half with an RBI single from Kelsi Bargman, which made the score 2-1.

But that was short lived, as Chelsea came right back to take its largest lead of the game in the bottom half of the frame.

Rich hit a leadoff double to get the inning started, and then with one down, Olivia Bergert added another double to put two runners in scoring position.

Following a second out, Carly Taylor stepped up in a big spot and made a big swing. She drove a fly ball to center field that got down for a single, and with two outs, the baserunners were running on contact, which helped both cross the plate for a 4-1 Chelsea lead through four innings of play.

That’s when the game took a turn, however.

In the top of the fifth, the Huskies started a comeback that led to a back-and-forth thriller down the stretch.

The inning started with three consecutive Helena hits, including singles from Chaney Handley and Peyton Wilkins and a double from Bella Holliday. The second of the singles from Handley drove in one run, before an error allowed Holliday to cross the plate as well.
All of a sudden, Helena was within a run, but that was just the start. Following an out, Megan Fortson stepped to the plate and tripled to right field to tie the game before Torie White followed with a double to left field to put Helena in front for the first time in the game at 5-4.

After a single and a ground out put runners on second and third with two outs, Bargman stepped to the plate and gave the Huskies one last big hit in the inning when she singled to left field to drive home both baserunners for a 7-4 lead.

Chelsea, however, had played well the entire game, and wasn’t going to let that one momentum swing determine the outcome, and in the bottom half of the inning, the Hornets came right back with an answer of their own.

With runners on second and third with two outs, Bergert came through with another big two-RBI single to cut Chelsea’s deficit to 7-6 through five innings.

But right as Chelsea had battled back in it, Helena had found its pop at the plate and came right back to extend the lead with another impressive inning in the sixth.

Holliday led off the frame with a double before Handley singled to left field to put runners on the corners with no outs. That was followed by an RBI single from Wilkins to put the Huskies up 8-6.

A groundout from Fortson drove home another run, and then two batters later an RBI single from Emily Crowe gave the Huskies a 10-6 lead.

In the bottom half of the inning, Chelsea again tried to inch back in the game and eventually cut Helena’s lead to two runs following a few mistakes by the Huskies, including a walk and two errors.

Still, Helena held a 10-8 advantage, and that lead grew by one in the top of the seventh when Wilkins hit a solo bomb over the left-field wall.

Needing three runs to force extra innings and four to win the game, Chelsea stepped to the plate in the home half of the final inning and eventually loaded the bases behind two walks and a single, but with two outs on the board, the hole was too deep.

Helena pitcher Avery Barnett was able to force a line out to Bargman in center field, who made the catch to cement the 11-8 victory and the area crown.

Helena was led by Wilkins with a 3-for-5 game featuring two RBIs, while Bargman went 2-for-4 with three RBIs. Fortson also added two RBIs with two hits. Handley and White each finished the game with two hits and one RBI, while Crowe added three hits. Holliday was the seventh and final player for the Huskies with at least two hits in the win.

Barnett tossed a complete game to pick up the win and allowed 11 hits and eight runs while striking out three. Because of errors, however, only one of those eight runs was earned.

Chelsea was led by Smith and Bergert as each finished with a 2-for-4 game featuring two RBIs. Taylor added two RBIs on one hit, while Rich had one hit and one RBI.