Back to state: Helena wins region title to punch ticket to Class 6A State Tournament

Published 6:48 pm Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

MONTGOMERY – The Helena Huskies had to fight for their spot in the state tournament, but they battled to finish 3-0 at regionals to punch their ticket to return to Oxford.

Helena advanced to the state tournament thanks to an 11-1 win over the Stanhope Elmore Mustangs, 2-0 victory over the Brookwood Panthers and 6-3 win over the Calera Eagles in the Class 6A Central Regional Tournament at Lagoon Park in Montgomery on May 6-7.

“I’m just so proud of our players, our coaches, our parents, community and our admin at school,” Helena coach Mark Sanders said. “They have been so supportive of us and we’re just thrilled for this opportunity and looking forward to taking the next step.”

The Huskies started out their journey with a dominant run-rule win over Stanhope Elmore in the opening round.

After an RBI single from Hannah Steele started the scoring in the bottom of the first, Destiny Brashears came up big in a two-out spot with a two-run home run to extend the lead to 3-0.

That opened the floodgates for five straight singles, including back-to-back RBI singles from Tatum Cooper and Cammi Pugh, and gave the Huskies a 5-0 lead at the end of the first.

Helena went one-two-three in the top of the second and got back to work with an RBI triple from Henley Traywick and runs off the bats of Emma Olive and Molly Rollan, putting the Huskies up 8-0 after two innings.

The scoring pace slowed from there as Helena went the next two innings without scoring a run. Stanhope Elmore hit a solo shot to lead off the third inning, but that was the only run the Mustangs could muster in the game.

With two runners on from an error and a Pugh single, Hannah Steele plated both runners with a one-out RBI single to extend the lead to 10-1.

Henley Traywick singled to keep the rally going and put runners on first and third, and that set up Addison Draiss to hit an RBI single and end the game off the run rule.

Harley Morrison went the distance in the circle and allowed just one run, three hits and two walks in five innings while taking four strikeouts.

Steele went 3-for-4 at the plate with three RBI and three runs, Draiss had two RBI and Brashears joined her with two RBI thanks to her two-run home run.

While the offense controlled the first game of the tournament, Helena needed every run it could get in a defensive duel against Brookwood.

The Huskies got the benefit of an error on the first batter of the game, which put Lively on base to start the bottom of the first. Steele and Henley Traywick both used sacrifice bunts to bring Lively home and take the 1-0 lead.

That run proved crucial as Helena went hitless for the next two innings. However, Hayden Traywick took complete control in the circle and retired eight straight batters from the second to fourth innings.

It looked like the Huskies would go another inning without securing a hit in the bottom of the fourth as they sat with two outs, but Brashears not only got a hit, but she launched her second home run of the day.

The solo shot doubled Helena’s lead to 2-0 and set the Huskies up to control the remainder of the game on defense.

Brookwood’s one-out single in the top of the fifth was its lone hit of the game as Hayden Traywick got contact off her pitches. That helped the Huskies dispatch the Panthers the rest of the way and earn the 2-0 win.

Hayden Traywick finished the game with a complete-game shutout, allowing just one hit and two walks while taking two strikeouts.

The victory set up Helena with a chance to come back on Tuesday and face county rival Calera for a spot in the state tournament.

However, Eagles pitcher Kate Townley came into the matchup with 21 strikeouts in her first two starts of the tournament against Pelham and Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa and got right back to work against the Huskies offense.

Townley struck out two batters to finish off a one-two-three top of the first and gave Calera momentum heading into its half of the inning.

While Helena secured a double play to negate a lead-off single, Kinley Rodgers singled to set up Townley to provide her own run support with an RBI double to go up 1-0.

While Emma Olive doubled to start the top of the second, that was the last offense for both teams for a while as Hayden Traywick and Townley settled in within the pitcher’s circle.

Both pitchers succeeded in getting quick contact and ended multiple innings in five pitches or less as a result.

Calera got a lead-off single off the bat of Mia Wade, but the Huskies responded with a double play to put the Eagles in a hole. Townley then hit a double to put a runner in scoring position, but Molly Rollan caught a pop-out and got Helena out of the jam.

Helena got an opening to respond in the top of the fifth off a one-out error, and a Gracie Storey single followed by a sacrifice bunt put two runners in scoring position for Pugh.

Facing a big two-out spot, Pugh ripped a double to left to plate both runs, which not only got the Huskies on the board, but gave them the 2-1 lead as well.

That was the spark that Helena needed as Hayden Traywick orchestrated a one-two-three inning in the bottom of the fifth and both Traywick sisters came up with singles in the top of the sixth.

With two on and two out, Molly Rollan hit an RBI single to extend the lead to 3-1.

Calera responded from another two-out hole with a Kinley Rodgers RBI single and a run off a Lucy Townsend bunt to tie up the game at 3-3.

Faced with even more pressure heading into the seventh, Helena made one last rally in the top of the seventh to retake the lead.

Pugh reached off a catcher’s interference call to start the inning, and Lively then sent a ball to left field for an RBI triple and put the Huskies up 4-3.

Steele extended that lead to 5-3 with an RBI single off the next at-bat, and later in a two-out situation, Hayden Traywick came up with an RBI single to make the lead 6-3 heading into the bottom of the seventh.

From there, Hayden Traywick brushed off a lead-off single to secure the next three outs and send Helena to state.

Hayden Traywick took the complete-game win as she worked around three runs and nine hits while not allowing a walk and taking two strikeouts. At the plate, she went 2-for-3 with an RBI.

Rollan went 2-for-4 with a run and an RBI and Pugh had two RBI and a run in a 1-for-2 game.


After the Huskies finished the tournament, Sanders attributed his team’s success in the tight situations they faced against Brookwood and Calera to their grittiness, channeling their team motto inspired by Isaiah 43:2: “Just keep swimming.”

“It wasn’t easy at all, and there’s some great teams still here, but I feel like us just being gritty and learning how to play one inning at a time was really key,” Sanders said. “We’ve been discussing this with our kids all year and trying to get them to buy in to it that you can’t look too far down the road, can’t look at your next opponent. The opponent you’re playing right now is the biggest game of the year. You’ve just got to play one inning at a time.”

While this is the fifth straight season that the Huskies have made the state tournament, for first-year coach Mark Sanders, it will be his first trip to Oxford.

After decades of coaching in the Helena community, Sanders was grateful to his assistants and administration to have the opportunity to coach this year’s team and reach the state tournament on his first try.

“I’ve been with this same community for over 25 years, coaching softball and never really thought that I would be here in this position,” Sanders said. “I was happy as a middle school coach and the Lord just worked it out for me to move up. I live two hours away, but I still feel like Helena’s home for me and it’s part of my life. I always see myself being a Husky.”

The Huskies will travel to Oxford’s Choccolocco Park on May 14-15 in hopes of breaking through and earning the state championship.