Helena downs rival Pelham to claim area championship

Published 11:07 pm Wednesday, February 7, 2024


HELENA – Trailing by one point with less than three minutes to play in the Class 6A, Area 8 championship game, the Helena Huskies flipped a switch against rival Pelham on Wednesday, Feb. 7.

To that point in the game, leading scorer and senior Josh Williams had been limited to five first-quarter points with the Panthers holding him in check after falling behind 13-4 in the opening quarter.

Williams, however, kept his composure and saved his best moments of the game for the finish.

He kickstarted Helena’s strong close with a 3-pointer to give the Huskies the lead and then followed that with a free throw and another layup for a quick 6-0 run by himself before ultimately finishing the game with an and-1.

That nine-point stretch from the senior was part of a 10-1 run from the Huskies over the final three minutes to help them overcome the one-point deficit and turn it into a 48-40 victory to claim the area championship.

The win gave the Huskies their second consecutive area championship and a chance to host a sub-regional matchup on Saturday, Feb. 10.

It capped off a wild back-and-forth game that saw Helena start the game much like the Huskies finished it.

In the opening quarter, it looked like they were going to have their way with the game thanks to a dominant defensive start.

Helena gave up four points in the opening quarter, limiting Pelham to one field goal each from Joe Wimberly and Sam Tolbert.

The Huskies turned that defense into 13 points offensively behind five from Williams, including a 3-pointer, one field goal each from Ian Johnigan and Drew Davis and a perfect 4-4 mark from the free throw line.

Trailing 13-4, Pelham needed a spark in the second quarter to hang around, and the Panthers got it on both ends of the floor.

Similar to Helena in the opening quarter, Pelham used a strong energy defensively to create opportunities on the other end of the court. The Panthers limited Helena to seven points, while Wimberly, Tolbert and Dynarian Long combined for 16 points with at least three from each player.

Wimberly hit three field goals for six points, while Long had seven on two field goals and a 3-pointer and Tolbert powered through an and-1.

That strong effort helped the Panthers claw back to even the score at 20-20 going into the halftime break.

That led to a compelling finish in the second half with several lead changes in a back-and-forth battle.

The two matched each other throughout the third quarter with five lead changes over the final 2:30 of the third quarter, ultimately ending with a layup from Helena’s Joe King to give the Huskies a 32-31 lead going to the final quarter.

The two traded the lead six more times over the first five minutes of the final quarter, but it was Williams’ finish in the clutch that became the difference as Pelham couldn’t answer his 3-pointer that gave the Huskies the lead for good.

Williams finished with 14 points to lead Helena, while King added nine and Torrey Ward finished with eight. Four other scored for the Huskies in the win.

Pelham was led by Long with 14 points, while Wimberly finished just behind with 12.

Both will now gear up for a sub-regional matchup Saturday night with Helena at home and the Panthers hitting the road.