Helena’s run at state title ends with back-to-back losses in Oxford

Published 5:24 pm Tuesday, May 14, 2024

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By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

OXFORD – After a successful season that saw them claim region and area championships and rise to the No. 1 ranking in the state, the journey is over for the Helena Huskies.

The Huskies lost 6-4 to the Gardendale Rockets before falling 6-3 to the Wetumpka Indians on Tuesday, May 14 in the Class 6A State Tournament at Oxford’s Choccolocco Park to finish out the 2024 season.

“We’re just exceptionally proud of our kids,” Helena coach Mark Sanders said. “We had a great season. These kids won 40 games this year. We had great senior leadership and these kids put in the work day in and day out. The coaches were incredible. Our admin team at school’s been really supportive. We’re just really full of gratitude for the opportunity to be here. It didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to, but we were really excited for this opportunity.

In the first game of the day, Helena found itself in an early hole against Gardendale before rallying to close the gap.

The Rockets jumped ahead to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first with an RBI single and a run off a sacrifice fly, and they took control in the pitching circle right after to keep the Huskies off the base-paths until the bottom of the third inning.

Before that, Gardendale added two more runs off RBI singles during a rally in the top of the third inning to extend the lead to 4-0.

Afterwards, Helena got its first hit of the day and put runners on the corners with two outs. While it got into the hit column, the run column would have to wait for another couple of innings as the Rockets secured the third out of the inning.

Gardendale made its lead five in the fourth with a run off a sacrifice fly, and the next inning, it took the lead to 6-0 after a tricky fly ball to right field turned into an RBI triple.

However, Helena responded in a big way and shifted the tide of momentum in its favor.

After a single and a walk to start the bottom of the sixth, an error allowed both Molly Rollan and Gracie Storey to come home and put the Huskies on the board.

Shortly after, the Rockets had problems getting on the bag to secure a pair of groundouts and loaded up the bases for Helena.

The Huskies got another run off a Henley Traywick RBI single but got called out at the plate after going for two runs. While Gardendale got out of the jam with the third out of the inning, Helena had done its damage and cut the deficit to 6-3.

After securing three groundouts in just five pitches in the top of the sixth, Marlee Parsons came up in a big two-out spot in the bottom half of the frame. She sent a ball just over the right fielder to come up with a two-out RBI triple and make it a two-run game.

Hayden Traywick and Presley Lively came up with a pair of big catches in the top of the seventh, and a Parsons strikeout gave Helena all of the momentum heading into the bottom of the seventh.

Lively got a lead-off single, and Emma Olive reached base with two outs after she was hit by a pitch, but a lineout ended the inning and gave the Rockets the 6-4 win.

Rollan went 2-for-3 with two runs and Lively also had a multi-hit game with a 2-for-4 performance.

The Huskies then took the field just a couple of hours later for a do-or-die elimination game against Wetumpka.

Each team got up a hit in the first inning, but the defense cleaned up the order from there to keep the game scoreless.

Then, in the top of the second, a controversial sequence saw Storey make a diving catch at second for what would have likely been ruled a lineout, but after she made the throw to first, both runners were ruled safe, including the one that crossed home plate for the first run.

Helena got out of the inning without suffering any more damage, but the Indians struck in the third inning as well.

After Presley Lively made a big catch in center field, Wetumpka placed a fly ball just out of her running reach in right field to hit a triple. The runner scored after tagging up during a lineout to make the lead 2-0.

The Indians then doubled in the fourth inning and drove the runner home thanks to a sacrifice bunt and a short hit to first that led to an unsuccessful play at the plate.

However, Helena responded in the bottom half of the inning with an Olive lead-off double. Destiny Brashears then reached on an error to put two on for Molly Rollan.

Rollan hit into a groundout that brought Olive home and put the Huskies on the board, making the score 3-1.

Helena got two runners on in the fifth but couldn’t capitalize. Wetumpka then hit a lead-off double in the sixth, advanced the runner off a sacrifice bunt and got a two-out RBI single to restore the three-run lead.

After a scoreless bottom of the sixth, the Huskies nearly got to the bottom of the seventh without allowing any runs thanks to a pair of outs. However, a two-out single gave way to an RBI triple and RBI double, making the score 6-1.

With Helena needing a response, Hayden Traywick reached off a lead-off single to start a rally. After the next batter flew out to right, Lively ripped a triple for her third hit of the day and scored the runner to cut the deficit to four. She finished the game 3-for-4 with a run and an RBI.

That hole was soon reduced to three when Hannah Steele grounded out to second to bring Lively home.

However, the gap proved too far to close as a strikeout sealed the 6-3 win for Wetumpka and ended the Huskies’ stay in the state tournament.

At the end of the day, Sanders said that while the Huskies suffered some defensive miscues, he was proud of how hard they fought in both games towards the end.

“We didn’t play our best defensively, got behind too in both games,” Sanders said. “I liked the position that we were in toward the end, but we just couldn’t break through. But I’m incredibly proud of how hard we fought, and we never gave up to the very last out. I’m really proud of that.

Sanders thanked his players, fans and coaches for their support in his first season as varsity coach after 26 years at Helena. He said he’s grateful for the relationships that he’s built with the team this season and hopes they remember those bonds as well.

“I hope to remember just being a part of their lives,” Sanders said. “What they’re going to remember most is the healthy relationships that they built with each other while playing softball, and I think that’s what’s important.