Helena baseball ready to take next step with experienced core

Published 9:04 pm Tuesday, January 30, 2024

By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

The Helena Huskies are back for more on the baseball field in 2024 with an experienced core that is ready to put the lessons they learned last season to work.

“With what we’ve been able to do over the past two weeks, we do feel good about it,” Helena varsity baseball coach CJ Guy said. “We had a lot of guys last year who were first-time varsity players and we felt like last year was a good learning experience for them.

Those first-time varsity players reached the round of 16 in 2023 and are back for more this season with seven of their eight field starters returning along with much of their pitching rotation.

Guy believes that last season’s experience will be one of the biggest keys to success this season as the Huskies are now a year older and a year wiser.

“I feel like experience is sometimes the best lesson to have when you’re trying to go through battles in a game like baseball,” Guy said. “So, with the guys that we have returning, which was a big nucleus of our roster this year, we’re happy to see just the maturity that we’ve seen from them from last year to this year so far.

Those players include All-County talent like third baseman Braydon Kendrick and outfielder Jarret Scott, both of whom are juniors and players Guy hopes will take a big leap forward this season.

The Huskies also have a senior-laden rotation which includes Logan Barber at the top, Bennett Plowden and the ever-reliable Carson Acker, and the trio will be paired with rising star Brayden Dockery, who stood out as a freshman in 2023, and Hayden Berry when he returns from injury.

The infield remains the same for Helena in 2024 with Kendrick and first baseman Reece Mims on the corners flanking second baseman Ty Strickland and shortstop Caleb Higgins as seniors in the middle infield, which Guy believes is a strong part of the field when paired with centerfielder John Martin Williamson.

“We feel like in baseball you’ve got to be really good up the middle with our middle infielders and our center fielder,” Guy said. “And we feel like our middle infield is one of our strong points of our team. 

The lone position that Guy needs to fill is at catcher, which Nick Peters and Sam Odom have battled for in the offseason. He is excited about both of his options and looks forward to watching them work in the weeks to come ahead of opening day on Feb. 17 against Oxford and Spain Park.

That kicks off what will be a difficult non-area stretch for Helena as they will battle Class 7A foes such as Thompson, Hoover, Vestavia Hills, Auburn and Central-Phenix City.

The Huskies started last season 2-9 and came up short in multiple games decided by one or two runs during that stretch. However, they rebounded from there to get out of the area and reach the round of 16.

Guy hopes his team can use the difficult early stretch to build similar resolve as well as consistency ahead of area play.

“Early on this year, I really hope that again we will be in a situation where whether it’s an early deficit or a late deficit, that’s just something that we will have to overcome to try to find a way to be on the right side of the game on the scoreboard,” Guy said. “Not saying it’ll happen every time, but I think that’s something that early on in the year that will really help us out to move forward once we get into mid-March, late March and you get into area play.

Throughout all of it, Guy hopes that his team can grow even closer together than they already are. He said that this team enjoys being together throughout all of the hard work that it takes to succeed.

“Just that we can connect to be one heartbeat,” Guy said. “This is a group that we love hanging out with each other. We enjoy each other’s company. I think every day in practice, we work hard, we have a standard of excellence, but we know how to have fun with each other.

Even with that standard of excellence, for Guy and his staff, their goal is to develop his players into great people in addition to great baseball players and give them the tools to succeed when they leave Helena High School.

“Every year, it’s a different puzzle,” Guy said. “With this group, I think they have high expectations, high goals. But besides the win-loss record, what we have always been here at Helena is that we’re a family. We’re a very family-oriented program. We care about these kids more than we do with wins and losses, care about the whole person and that when each class, and certainly with these nine (seniors) that we have this year, when they graduate from us, that we have them prepared for whatever’s next, and so with all of the things that we go through, we hope it prepares them for the next level of their life.