Story and photos by Chet Piotrowski Jr.
Charleston Middle School pitcher Ty Helton was masterful Saturday against Mattoon Middle School in the Class 3A IESA regional semifinal game Saturday morning.
With his hat just askew and mouthguard protruding out ever so slightly, Helton kept the Wildcats (9-6) guessing with his off-speed pitches, allowing just one baserunner over six innings as the Trojans (15-2) advance to play Effingham Junior High School on Monday at 4:30 p.m. at Charleston High School.
“I was working my off-speed pitches good and locating my fastball,” Helton said.
Charleston Middle School coach Jon Hanner wanted his pitcher not to settle on showing just his fastball.
“Ty’s the type of player who’s going to be around the plate,” he said. “I emphasized today that he needed to throw his breaking balls more. He’s been going out and throwing fastballs, and you’re not going to get anyone out just by the throwing fastballs. He got his curve ball going and his changeup was effective around the plate.”
Payton Archibald doubled to drive in Russ Applegate and Landon Shafer in the third in the bottom of third. Wyatt Gordon later singled in Archibald. That was all Charleston needed with Helton’s performance on the mound.
“We’ve seen him earlier in the year,” Mattoon coach Kasey Alexander said. “We knew he had a good curveball with decent velocity. Our focus was to jump fastballs early in the count if we got one. We struggled to do that. We struggled to handle the off-speed stuff when we were down in the count. He’s a good pitcher. We knew what we were facing. We didn’t step up to the challenge and handle it well.”
Mattoon pitcher Tyler Haacke took the loss in four innings after giving up five hits, four walks and five runs with two strikeouts.
The Wildcats pitcher fouled a pitch into the index finger on his pitching hand in the top of the first. Alexander doesn’t believe it affected him physically.
“As a pitcher, a right-handed pitcher, and you’re up there hitting in the first inning and take one off the index finger compressed against the bat – it’s going to be in your head the rest of the game, especially as a 13-year-old kid,” he said. “No excuses as he bounced back and pitched well for four innings.”
Charleston scored two more in the fourth, giving the Trojans a 5-0 lead prompting a pitching change by Mattoon.
“The third inning we had two outs and walked their number nine hitter, and then it just snowballed from there,” Alexander said. “Then in the fourth inning we had two outs and walked their number nine hitter and they started bunting on us and it put pressure on our defense, and we didn’t respond.”
Charleston’s Jacob Reed led off the fifth with an inside-the-park home run, finishing his sprint around the bases with his arms outstretched crossing home plate.
“I was just looking for an outside pitch to drive to the right-center gap on a shift to the left,” he said. “I was just looking to drive the ball to the gap.”
Hanner credits Reed’s athleticism.
“Jacob is a great athlete,” he said. “When you have athletes like him, he’s strong and fast. He’s an extremely good baseball player. He’s a good hitter. You get him in those situations; he easily comes through.”
Reed ended the game by scoring the 10th run in the sixth inning by avoiding a tag in a rundown. Reed was credited with stealing home.
“That’s all on Jacob,” Hanner said. “That’s on him being an athlete. He likes to do that kind of stuff. He likes to get in rundowns. He’s just that type of player that sometimes just goes.”
After the loss, Alexander told his squad to continue to improve their skills.
“Keep working to get better,” he said. “Keep working on the stuff that maybe you lack in hitting the curveball or, pitching-wise, that they’re not hitting their spots or developing a secondary pitch.”