Brooks Helton wouldn’t wilt while facing mounting pressure.
Tasked to protect a perilous 4-3 lead in the sixth inning, the Pioneer junior pulled his best Houdini impression to push Warren County to a huge victory over Cookeville.
Helton escaped a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the sixth to keep the Pioneers up one, then struck out the side in the seventh as the Pioneers swept a two-game series with the district-leading Cavaliers.
“When we won Monday, I think some people thought we had just snuck up on them,” said Pioneer coach Trice Powers. “Winning again, I think it legitimizes our spot in the district.
“It was a great win for us. We have to continue to improve as the season goes along.”
Warren County (11-8) led 4-1 entering the sixth inning, but the Cavaliers began to mount a comeback.
Ben Baugh opened the inning with a double, followed by a Joshua South single. By the time Blaine Espinoza roped a shot into right to score Baugh, coach Powers decided to make a switch on the bump.
Jack Keele, who earned the win for his stellar start, gave way to Helton. It didn’t start smoothly.
Helton walked the bases loaded, then had an error on a comebacker to help Cookeville draw within one at 4-3.
On the brink of a collapse, Helton buckled down. He sat down Dylan Sparks in three pitches, then got a groundball back to the mound on the next pitch. He fielded and fired home, beating Espinoza to the plate for out two.
The roar from Patrick Ramsey Field grew louder when Helton forced another grounder back to the mound, fielding and running toward first before shoveling the ball for the final out. The entire Pioneer bench met Helton at the line, celebrating the huge escape.
There was still work left to be done though.
Helton had to hit the mound again nursing a one-run lead, and immediately fell behind 2-0 to the lead-off batter. Helton regrouped and battled to a full count, painting the outside corner for a called third strike.
Helton sandwiched another strikeout around two walks, putting the potential winning run on base with Drew Crouch at the plate. Helton worked ahead, freezing Crouch with a curve to get to 1-2. Helton went with the heat on the final pitch, one Crouch couldn’t keep up with as the Pioneers stormed the field.
The win pushed the Pioneers to 7-3 in district, while the back-to-back losses dropped Cookeville to 7-2.
Warren County led the entire way, getting two runs in the first to set the tone. Brandon Hennessee scored Ethan Smith – who led off with a bunt single – on a double to right field. Helton followed with a surprise drag bunt, one that was fielded and thrown into right field to score Hennessee.
Hennessee added another RBI double in the third, while Hunter Adams added extra help with a run-scoring single in the fifth.