Sometimes it’s tough to spot when a season swings. It was very obvious Monday night.
The Pioneer baseball team entered its district opener inching ever closer to a disastrous campaign. Warren County had lost its last nine games, compiling a 3-12 record while competing in three tough Midstate tournaments.
With a roster featuring three seniors already signed to college scholarships, and a couple more with the opportunity to play at the next level, this was the year most figured Warren County would compete for championships. For the last two weeks, competing for a victory seemed tough.
Injuries forced younger players into new roles. The defense piled up errors quicker than the offense could score runs. The elephant in the room – the dismissal of all-region performer Jack Keele in the offseason – was starting to boil over in every conversation surrounding the slow start.
But with a clean slate, Brooks Helton silenced a lot of doubters against Rhea County.
The Pioneers are 1-0 in district play – the only games which will matter in May – because their senior was far and away the best player on Patrick Ramsey Field Monday night.
Helton was dynamite on the mound, blending his power pitches with a devastating array of off-speed stuff to baffle Golden Eagles hitters. Helton’s nine strikeouts were the most he’s had since fanning 12 against Smyrna last March.
Domination on the mound would’ve been enough to earn Helton a game ball in a 12-2 romp. Instead, it was just the appetizer.
Helton morphed into a modern-day Babe Ruth, slamming every pitch he saw. All that was missing was Helton calling his shot on the walk-off blast to centerfield which ended Monday’s contest in five innings.
Paul Bunyan would’ve been envious of the power display Helton put on Monday, hitting two home runs while finishing with a career-high seven RBIs in the district opener. As one fan put it Monday, his final home run was, “bouncing down Viola Highway.”
It’s impossible to win the district MVP award based on one game, but Helton just announced his candidacy in emphatic fashion. And it came at a vital time for the program.
Losing over and over can seep into a team’s consciousness, especially when the Pioneers suffered back-to-back defeats in the final inning last week. When the question flips from “what are going to do to win?” to “how are we going to lose this one?,” it’s hard to flip it back.
The Pioneers may still struggle in district games - one win doesn’t erase nine losses. But for a night, Warren County looked every bit like the contender most pegged it to be before the season.
The team can thank Helton for that.