Helper A.l. Advances to Region Finals, Despite Losing State Title
|Members of the Helper American Legion team take time to pose for a photo before heading for Las Vegas to compete in the western region championships. Members of the team include Landon Watson, Travis Barnett, Kent Stilson, Jeff Fielder, Chandler Pearson, Matt Jewkes, Jamal Lewis, Zac Cloward, Dusty Lister, Josh Greenwood, Troy Grundy, Travis Bettencourt, Joe Vea, Chris Hatch, Tracy Jones, Franky Iriart, Mike Smith, Andy Farlaino, Garrett Schmitz, Tony McFarland, and honorary player Blake Wilde who did not compete this year due to an injury sustained in the off season. The team is managed and coached by Jeff Jewkes and Jeff Cisneros.|
After losing to Cyprus in the second round of the American Legion state championship tournament, Helper was faced with the difficult task of winning all of its remaining games in order to capture the coveted state title. Helper started this journey with great success as the team stepped up Tuesday afternoon and defeated Dixie, 11-8.
Helper continued their quest for the state title as they stepped up to face Tooele Wednesday afternoon. Jamal Lewis took over the pitchers mound and played an incredible game for Helper. Aside from his pitching efforts, Lewis also hit a double in the fifth inning. He then scored a go-ahead run on an RBI triple by Matt Jewkes. The team effort resulted in a Helper 5-3 victory over Tooele.
Helper advanced in the tournament brackets and moved on to play Brigham City Thursday evening. Troy Grundy stepped up play as he threw five no-hit innings with 10 strikeouts. Grundy's performance during this game earned him the tournament's most outstanding pitcher award.
In a game which seemed as if it had no end in sight, the conclusion came in the 11th inning as Garrett Schmitz scored the winning unearned run off of a throwing error by Brigham City. The 4-3 victory earned Helper a bye Friday and even more importantly, it earned them a spot in the championship game Saturday afternoon.
Although Helper did not know at this time who their opponent would be in the title round, it was expected that Taylorsville would grace the baseball diamond during the title race. This became a reality as Taylorsville easily defeated Cyprus 19-0 Friday which moved them to the championship game against Helper Saturday.
In order for Helper to capture the title, they would have to defeat Taylorsville twice because the team had not suffered a loss during the entire tournament. This would be a difficult task, but Helper was up for the challenge.
Prior to the championship game, Taylorsville was informed that three of their star players would have to sit out the remainder of the tournament. This was due to the fact that the Taylorsville team is comprised of all-star players from several different high schools. In order to compete in the American Legion, teams must ensure that the schools which the players come from do not exceed the 4,000 student enrollment limit. If this holds true, a team will be forced to eliminate players from the roster in order to keep the enrollment numbers below the requirement of 4,000.
When legion officials examined the enrollment numbers of the Taylorsville team, they found that three of the players would not be eligible to compete. This decision was made after state legion officials had ensured Taylorsville that they were in legal boundaries of competing with its existing players.
Despite the confusion and contraversy which surrounded the championship game, Helper and Taylorsville stepped up to compete for the chance to advance to the western region tournament to be held in Las Vegas this week.
Helper opened up the ball game with two runs in the first inning. Jeff Fielder started the game with a single and scored on a triple by Jewkes. Jewkes then scored on a Kent Stilson sacrifice fly, earning Helper the lead over Taylorsville early on however the lead would not last long.
Jewkes stepped up to pitch the Taylorsville game for Helper, but by the fifth inning, he had tired. Jewkes allowed six runs in the fifth which blew the doors open for a Taylorsville victory.
By the time the dust had cleared, Taylorsville had defeated Helper 12-2, thus advancing the team to the western regional tournament.
Helper returned home filled with pride knowing that they had taken home the second place finish in the state legion championship. In retrospect, the season had been quite successful for the Helper team and now the season had came to an end, or so they thought.
Sunday evening Helper coach Jeff Cisneros received an unexpected phone call from a legion official who informed him that his team had received an invitation to compete in the region tournament beginning Thursday.
The legion official explained to a puzzled Cisneros that the Utah seed for the tournament had been vacated by Taylorsville who was told that two more players would have to step down from the team because of enrollment numbers.
The American Legion western region authorities determined that the team was in violation of region rules, despite what state officials had told them. This meant that Taylorsville now had a total of five players eliminated from the squad which left an insufficient amount of players to compete in the Vegas tourney.
"This is unfortunate for Taylorsville who's players competed well this year and worked hard to make it to the region tournament. It's the players that will suffer from this decision. I am however glad to see that the rules are being followed and that players who follow these rules are rewarded," explained Cisneros.
The Helper team will represent Utah at the western regional tournament which begins Thursday. Helper will face the Nevada state champions in the first round. The second round game will pit Helper against Hawaii and the team will play California Saturday afternoon.
The region championship hosts eight teams from seven different states with the hosting state entering two teams. The tournament is set up with two pools comprised of four teams. Each team is ensured three games during the tourney. At the conclusion of these three games, the top two teams from each pool will play for the right to advance to the final round which will be for the region title.
"This is a rare opportunity for these kids to compete at this level. I'm excited for our team to go, but I do regret that Taylorsville will miss this chance," explained Cisneros.
Helper will leave Wednesday bound for Las Vegas where they will compete in a tournament of a lifetime.