Helper Legion team wins state championship
9-0 win over St. George gives Helper back-to-back state titles
With one strike to go and Helper ace Cole Fossat on the mound looking to finish a complete game, the Helper American Legion Baseball team found themselves on the cusp of another Utah American Legion State Championship.
As Fossat's final pitch left his fingertips and whirled in towards catcher Colton Greener's glove for the final out of the game, Helper players sprinted from their positions on the field and from the dugout for a celebratory dog pile after defeating St. George 9-0 to capture their second straight Utah state title on Friday evening at Worthington Park in Logan.
After more than two months of play, Helper did what Head Coach Jeff Cisneros felt they could do all along: Get back to the championship game and win it.
"We were working towards our goal all season long to get back here," Cisneros said, "and this is the end result."
The end result came on the heels of a hectic week of baseball for Helper as walk-off home runs, late inning comeback wins and errors and some bounces that all went Helper's way during an undefeated run to the championship series.
After losing to St. George 8-0 in a mistake and error plagued game on Thursday evening, Helper came out on Friday looking like a different team in the batter's box and out on the field. And the results quickly followed.
Greener hit an RBI single in the second inning to help get Helper an early 1-0 lead. Helper added another run in the third inning as Ridge Nielson scored from third base as Fossat triggered a rundown while trying to steal second base to make it 2-0.
Helper blew the game open with a five-run fourth inning as Helper put runners on base thanks to a few hit batters and walks. Dillon Wilstead hit a two-run single, Bryce Blackburn lifted a two-run triple to left field and Fossat hit a sacrifice fly pushing the lead to 7-0.
Things became heated after Blackburn scored following a collision with the St. George catcher at home plate as both teams emptied their dugouts and had to be separated resulting in warnings from the umpires for both teams.
Despite the fireworks between the two squads, Helper continued their momentum at the plate and out on the field. Wilstead added another two-run single in the fifth inning to get Helper a 9-0 lead.
Fossat, who was named Most Valuable Player of the Tournament, had all the run support he needed as he shut down the St. George offense and held them hit-less through the first six innings. St. George's Josh Howard, who was named Tournament Offensive MVP, broke up the no-hit bid in the bottom of the seventh inning with a line drive double to right center field. The Helper defense quickly bounced back as a line drive caught by Helper's Blackburn turned into a quick double play as Howard was doubled off at second base. Three strikes later, Fossat put the finishing touches on a complete game one-hitter while allowing one walk and striking out nine batters.
"I just tried to keep them off-balance all night and throw everything I had at them," said Fossat, whose combination of a strong fastball and a confusing, floating knuckleball flummoxed St. George hitters all night long. "I knew I had the no-hitter going into the final inning but I'm not sad at all that I didn't get it. The win feels a whole lot better."
Cisneros credited the team with quickly putting aside the loss from the day before and coming out more focused and determined.
"It was night and day compared to Thursday's game," Cisneros said. "We were a little complacent in the first game but the team came out more focused for the second game. Cole was dominant on the mound and those early runs we scored helped everyone relax and focus on what they needed to do to get the win."
The offensive outburst was a long road away from the Helper team that struggled to score at times, including in the final games prior to the state tournament. But when it came down to getting the big hit, the Helper offense came through in the clutch.
"When we're patient and look for our pitch to hit, we can be good at the plate," Cisneros explained. "We'll need to swing the bats a lot better down in Arizona if we want to win more games."
In addition to Fossat's Tournament MVP award, Helper's Greener (American Legion Scholarship Award winner) and Dominic Rondinelli (Tournament's Top Defensive Player) also took home awards.
With the win, Helper will advance to represent the state of Utah at the Western Regional Tournament in Surprise, Arizona starting on Thursday. Helper will take on the New Mexico state champions on Thursday, August 7 at 9 a.m. The tournament follows a double elimination format, so Helper's performance will determine who they play on Friday, August 8.
In their final week of play, Helper had their share of walk-off wins and weird plays to win games that will be remembered for years to come. For Fossat, it was a full week of play culminating with a second state championship that everyone on the team did what they needed to do in order to win.
"It was definitely a crazy week with lots of ball that we had to play to get the championship," said Fossat. "Everyone made plays during the tournament run and we might not have won it if we didn't get those big plays earlier in the tournament."
Cisneros said the team's performance over the season was equivalent to a roller coaster with many ups (good team play, winning streaks during the season) and downs (struggling to gel as a team at first, offensive and defensive lulls). But, through everything they endured over the season, the Helper team found ways to get better and ultimately claimed their second state championship in a row.
"It felt like a struggle at times but, they've worked really hard to get back to this point," he said. "Getting the second championship feels just as good as the first and watching the team celebrate out there was a special moment to remember."