By Mike Monahan

CENTRALIA – Mattoon junior Jackson Helms hurled his second complete game shutout, throwing 104 pitches to shut down Centralia, 4-0, in an IHSA Class 3A Regional on Monday evening.

Mattoon (10-18), the No. 9 seeded team, scored three runs in the sixth and the defense didn’t commit any errors in beating the No. 7 Orphans (12-17). 

Mattoon was able to score against Tyler O’Neil who entered the game with a 6-5 record and sparkling 1.05 earned run average. He had given up the most hits on the team at 54, but only nine of the 29 runs he had allowed were earned in a team-high 60 innings. 

“That is probably one our best games we have played all year, and we picked a great time to do it,” said Mattoon coach Jarod Kiger. 

Next for Mattoon is a 4 p.m. semifinal game against top-seeded Marion (20-6). The teams have three common opponents in Centralia.

Common Opponents

CentraliaW, 4-0W, 9-7
Troy TriadL, 12-1W, 6-0
Mt. VernonL, 10-0W, 11-0; L, 2-1

Mattoon struck first Tuesday night, scoring an unearned run in the second inning when Zach Wetzel crossed the plate with two outs on an error by the shortstop. 

“In the first inning, I came out and I was really nervous,” said Helms, who also pitched a shutout in a 3-0 victory at Mt. Zion.  “Once we got that run on the board, I kind of slowed down my heartbeat and just pitched the way I knew I could. It worked out for me.”

The Orphans put a runner on in the first two innings, both times with two outs. In the third, Centralia’s leadoff batter, Cam Newcomb, singled and Zack Potter followed with an infield single. Helms worked his way out of the inning with the help of a catch in deep left field by Chandler Melton, who had to stretch to make the grab. Helms struck out the next batter to end the inning. 

“He turned the wrong way at first, and I was scared.,” said Helms. “He turned back around and I thought he was going to fall down but made the catch.”

“The end result was what we wanted,” Kiger added, “and he does a nice job in the outfield.”

Mattoon struck for three more runs in the sixth. Melton doubled to right, Cayden Knierim hit the first pitch he saw into right, and Zach Wetzel singled to center on an 0-2 count to drive in Melton. Cooper Bergstrom then singled in Knierim. The Green Wave scored the third run when Jason Skocy, who was running for Bergstrom, got caught in a run down, which allowed Wetzel to race home before Skocy was tagged out.

“Jason  (Skocy) was moving on the play and they caught him.,” said Kiger. “He did a great job getting in the run down and drawing the focus to him. Zach played it perfectly and was able to score. At that point, trading an out for a run worked in our favor.”

Wetzel said he was creeping down the line. 

“I was making sure he was far enough away, and I heard coach Kiger tell me to go. So I stole home,” said Wetzel. “Once I saw him get close to first I was going. I tried to get the outside of the plate because the throw was coming from first.”

Centralia threatened in the seventh when Lane Griffin and Newcomb each singled to center before Helms induced a pop-up to third to end the game. 

“I started off with the fastball working pretty well for me,” said Helms. “He (umpire) was giving me the outside coroner on a lot of at-bats. Once I started going through the lineup again, I started throwing sliders a lot. It looked like It had some good success. I had trouble locating it sometimes, but. eventually. I found it and it worked for me. I had trouble getting behind the count sometimes. I got behind 3-0 a lot and that brought my pitch count up a bit.”

Kaden Junge was also 2-for-3 for Mattoon, who posted its third shutout of the season and handed the Orphans their third shutout. 

“Jackson pitched as well as I think he has thrown all year,” said Kiger. “He has been kind of ramping up that pitch number for good opportunities where he can finish the game. He put us in position to be successful. A  guy got on second and he didn’t lose composure. He didn’t walk a lot (two). Him not putting those guys on takes some pressure off of us. We got that run early and then he just kind of locks down. The guys had tons of confidence in him today. Definitely behind him we made the basic plays that we had to do.”

Helms said the defense played well behind him.

“We had a lot of fly balls and ground balls as I just pitched for contact today,” said Helms, who pitched his first complete game in the postseason since middle school.  “I knew my guys behind me could get it done.”

Matton left 16 runners on base in a 5-2 loss to Normal last Wednesday. 

“One of our things we worked on was situational hitting,” said Kiger. “Moving guys over and actually scoring those guys.”

Should Mattoon beat Marion they would play the winner of the other semifinal Wednesday between Effingham (15-12) and Charleston (16-9). MHS’s 1980 team won a Class AA regional (in the two-class system) with a losing record, going 11-13. 

“Like I told the seniors,” said Kiger. ‘You get one opportunity now from here on out. You lose and you go home.’ We played well enough to get the win behind the great pitching by Jackson and we will come back Wednesday and see what Marion has got.”


Winning pitcher: Jackson Helms 7 innings, 7 hits, 0 runs, 2 walks, 6 strikeouts

MATTOON: Chandler Melton 1-for-4, double, run; Cayden Knierim 1-for-3, run; Zach Wetzel 2-for-3, 2 runs, RBI; Cooper Bergstrom 1-for-3, RBI; Kaden Junge 2-for-3