Helena downs Pelham twice to claim area championship

Published 12:09 am Wednesday, May 1, 2024

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HELENA – The top-ranked Helena Huskies faced a one-run deficit twice in this year’s Class 6A, Area 7 tournament, but that adversity didn’t deter the Huskies on their home field as they swept their rival in two straight games to claim the area championship.

The Huskies trailed the Pelham Panthers 3-2 in their first game of the area tournament on April 29, but answered back by outscoring the Panthers 5-1 the rest of the way for a 7-4 victory.

Then, a day later, Helena faced a 1-0 deficit through the top of the fifth but responded once again with a run in the home half of the fifth inning before eventually closing out an area title with a 2-1 walk-off win in the bottom of the ninth.

It was a hard-fought two games that earned the Huskies an area title and a spot in the regional tournament next week.

The championship win featured its share of thrills despite a low-scoring affair.

With Pelham entering off an elimination win over Briarwood and needing two wins against the Huskies to claim the area championship, they came out ready to battle.

It led to a 1-0 advantage off the top with a run in the opening inning.

That lead held up through the top of the fifth, as Helena struggled to get much going offensively.

The Huskies had left a runner on base in the second, third and fourth innings, but in the fifth, they finally capitalized.

Just as it looked as if a lead-off single from Addison Draiss was going to end with another stranded runner thanks to two consecutive outs, Cammi Pugh lined a single to right field that drove Draiss home for a clutch game-tying run.

Helena did end up leaving two runners on base, but the Huskies went to the sixth inning in a now tied game.

The two teams traded 1-2-3 half innings in the sixth and squandered chances in the seventh.

Pelham got the lead-off batter aboard in the top of the seventh, but a double play and pop out ended the threat.

Then, Helena put two runners in scoring position in the home half before a nerve-wracking ground out ended the inning and forced extra innings in a 1-1 tie.

The eighth inning came and went quietly with Helena stranding a runner in the bottom half, while Pelham went on to strand a base runner in the top of the ninth.

That set the stage for the Huskies to win it in the ninth.

A lead-off single from Gracie Storey sparked the inning for Helena.

From there, it was a combination of Tatum Cooper and smart base running. On a routine sac bunt attempt, Cooper laid down a perfect bunt that led to a low throw. Despite being stopped just in front of the base, Storey’s attentiveness became key as she saw a loss of focus on her.

She capitalized, rounding third and sprinting home for what became the game-winning run in a 2-1 win for the area title.

Pugh led the Huskies at the plate with a 2-for-3 game featuring an RBI, while Presley Lively added two hits. Helena outhit Pelham 9-4 in the win.

In the circle, Jaida Holtzclaw got the start and pitched the first 3 1/3 innings, striking out one and giving up one run on two hits, while Hayden Traywick finished off the final 5 2/3 innings by giving up no runs on two hits and striking out two.

The clutch finish to the area championship built off a strong start a day earlier.

After a bye in the three-team area, the Huskies squared off against Pelham to open the tournament after the Panthers started with their first win over Briarwood.

Helena took the early 2-0 lead through three innings, but the Panthers responded with three runs in the top of the fourth to steal the lead right back.

That, however, was short lived.

Helena scored three more to answer in the home half of the fourth before scoring two more in the fifth for a 7-3 advantage.

Pelham’s only answer came in the top of the sixth with one run, which wasn’t enough, as Helena advanced in the winner’s bracket to get the advantage a day later en route to the area title.

Cooper was the leader at the plate this time around, putting together a 3-for-3 game with two RBIs, while Henley Traywick joined her with three hits and one RBI. Lively added multiple hits with two, while Destiny Brashears added one hit and an RBI.

Marlee Parsons got the win in the circle, allowing four runs on four hits with six strikeouts. Hayden Traywick finished off the game, allowing just one hit.

Helena will now compete in the South Regional at Lagoon Park in Montgomery, which is scheduled to begin Monday, May 6.