Bearcats ready to battle Helena

Johnny Thornton

MONTGOMERY – Cullman and Helena. Two outstanding baseball teams this season in Class 6A of the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA). Both on a collision course this week with round one of the state title series. One will walk away with the blue map.

No. 1 Cullman and No. 2 Helena begin the best of a three-game state championship series with game one Thursday at 6 p.m. at Patterson Field. The series shifts to Riverwalk Stadium, the home of the AA Montgomery Biscuits on Friday. Game two will be at 10 a.m. with game three, if needed, to get underway at 1 p.m.

Both the Bearcats and Huskies have swept through four rounds of post-season opposition. But the tasks have not been easy and were not expected to be.

In the last two rounds, Cullman took down No. 3 rated Decatur 4-1 and 2-1 and sixth-ranked Hueytown 8-1 and 4-3 in nine innings. 

Helena swept defending champion Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa 2-1 and 5-2, the same day Cullman took two from Hueytown. The Huskies have posted four shutout wins in the playoffs, in comparison to three for Brent Patterson's Bearcats.

Cullman has a 37-7 record coming to the capital city, with Helena producing 36 wins against five losses. The Bearcats are 16-2 since April with the Huskies knocking off 16 opponents in 17 decisions in the same timeframe.

Hartselle is the only 6A school to beat the Bearcats this year, doing it by the score of 4-1 on April 15. That's the last time Cullman was defeated. Helena's only loss since April was on the 17th in a 9-8 slugfest to Spain Park from Class 7A.

In pitching, Patterson has been starting left-hander Jacob Heatherly in game one of each series and utilizing Levi Thomas and Will Morrison for game two of each round. He has had Kade Williams and Michael Myers come in from the bullpen and in case of an emergency, can send Owen Lovell to the mound. Lovell has not thrown since the Hartselle loss, but would be ready for the task if it comes to that.

The Bearcats have been solid at the plate with Noah Fondren in the lead-off spot, followed by Thomas, Lovell, Heatherly, Carter Bowen, Trent Price, Wheeler Eastman, Caleb Lipsey and Grayson Taylor.

Price, batting sixth, drove in three runs in the first win against Hueytown while Eastman got the game-winning single in the extra-inning victory during the nightcap with the Golden Gophers last week.

Cullman has scored 60 runs in the playoffs, with the lowest in a single game being four on two occasions. Great pitching has allowed just six runs in the last 30 innings.

The Bearcats and Huskies met on March 3 in Madison as part of the Birmingham-Huntsville classic. Heatherly threw a no-hitter against the Huskies and Cullman won 5-0. That was the Bearcats' fifth game of the season.

Appearing in the 6A championship series for the third consecutive year (fourth consecutive year overall), the Bearcats have a different finalist to battle. In 2015, the Bearcats claimed the crown from Pelham and lost it last year to Hillcrest.

Helena was ranked No. 1 to start the month of April after Cullman went 2-2 in the USA Baseball Challenge in Cary, North Carolina. Then the Bearcats ran off with eight straight victories when they returned to Alabama and came into the postseason as the No. 1 ranked club among 6A schools. Helena slipped to second.

The Bearcats are enjoying success on the diamond, staying focused after the tragedy of losing JV player Curtis Wilson to an auto accident on May 7, a day after the Bearcats swept Decatur at Bill Shelton Field.

Prep baseball fans who don't follow the Bearcats on a regular basis, but love to be in Montgomery for the state championships, can look forward to seeing this ball club that has four committed to play in the SEC. Lovell will be heading to Mississippi State, Bowen to Auburn, and Fondren and Heatherly to Alabama. Then add Thomas who is committed to Troy University, Lipsey to Wallace State and Williams to Snead State.

Playing for the baseball state championship has become a way life at Cullman High School.

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