Helper wins state title
At the beginning of the season in June, the Helper American Legion baseball team set out a goal of winning a state title. After what felt like an entire season played out over the course of a week of tournament play in Logan, exhausted as they may be, Helper can now call themselves state champions.
Needing two wins to become state champions, Helper dug deep outlasting Cyprus in a wild 7-6 win in 10 innings before clinching the state title with an 8-3 win in the deciding game on Saturday evening.
The championship wrapped up a whirlwind week for the team as they played seven games over the week, including winning five straight elimination games, going 7-1 in their quest to claim their first state championship in over 70 years, according to longtime Helper resident Walt Borla.
"Right now everything is a little unbelievable," said Helper head coach Jeff Cisneros, who is retiring this season after 20 years with the legion club. "The win hasn't quite sunk in just yet."
The championship dreams for Helper were almost sunk after they lost to Stansbury 4-2 last Tuesday. The loss in the quarterfinals sent Helper to the one-loss bracket which left them with little room for error. Helper defeated Mountain Crest and Layton to set up a rematch with Stansbury. Down 9-7 in ninth inning, Helper staged a four-run rally to take the lead en route to the 11-9 comeback win that clinched a spot in the championship series with Cyprus.
The quarterfinal loss to Stansbury may have been the turning point in the tournament for Helper as they were struggling to get runs across the plate despite having a stretch of strong pitching performances.
"(The Stansbury loss) just pissed us off," said Cole Fossat, who pitched three scoreless innings in the championship game. "We knew we had to come back after the loss and there was never any doubt in our minds that we couldn't come back and win it all."
Helper also escaped danger on a number of occasions in the first game against Cyprus. Leading 6-5 going into the bottom of the ninth, Helper right fielder Tyler Procarione appeared to catch a line drive but the first base umpire ruled that he trapped it. Procarione was able to throw the ball to first base and the hitter was called out while walking up the baseline thinking the ball was caught. However, Cyprus was able to advance a runner to third on the play who scored after the next batter doubled tying the game at 6-6. Helper pitcher Brandon Oliver struck out the next batter to escape the jam sending the game into extra innings where Helper was able to get the win to force the second game.
At the plate for Helper, no one made a bigger impact than Jaren McCourt. McCourt, a 2012 Carbon High graduate, hit two home runs in the deciding game, including a towering 3-run homer over the right field wall in the top of the seventh that began a late game rally that gave Helper a lead they would not relinquish.
"I knew it was gone off the bat," said McCourt, who was named Tournament MVP after finishing with six home runs in the tournament. "I've never had a streak (hitting six home runs in week) like this before. Words can't explain how good this feels."
While McCourt provided the power on offense, Cisneros credited the team's pitching staff with guiding the team over the eight games. Despite playing 37 innings over the final two days, a pitching staff including Oliver, Fossat, Derek Young, Dakota Cisneros, Jarod Lessar and Jordan Mellen powered through the eight games.
"I'm just glad they're all young," Cisneros said with a smile. "They're an older group with a lot of experience and I applaud them for the work they did this week."
In what will be his final season as head coach of the team after 20 years, Cisneros said a state title was a good cap to what has been a long and prosperous career as a coach.
"Finishing up things here with a win, I can't really ask for anything more than that," he said.
But while the state championship was a dream come true for the Helper team, there is still work to be done. Helper, 30-3 overall, will now represent the state of Utah in the American Legion Baseball Regionals down in Surprise, Ariz., starting this Thursday. The team will take on the champions from Arizona on Thursday at 5 p.m.
"We'll give it our best effort and I expect nothing less from the team when we get there," said Cisneros.