Jul. 28—RAPID CITY — As Mitchell baseball's No. 1 option on the mound, Jake Helleloid has recorded a heap of impressive, efficient performances throughout the spring and summer.
However, what the right-handed hurler offered during Mitchell Post 18's quarterfinal victory over Rapid City Post 320 on Wednesday — particularly across the final two innings — ranks right up there with his best.
Not only did Helleloid's performance help guide Mitchell through to the next winner's bracket round, but it also left the door open for another appearance later in the tournament while freeing up Mitchell's other pitchers to aid in the push to get there over the coming days.
Per the limits regarding pitch count and required rest days following an appearance on the mound, if a pitcher offers 81 pitches (or more), they are ineligible to throw again until four full rest days have elapsed. However, at 80 pitches that timeline is reduced by 24 hours.
When Helleloid went back out to the mound to start the seventh inning, he knew his time left in that position was fleeting.
At 74 pitches and with Mitchell leading 4-1, Helleloid had six pitches or less remaining in his afternoon, as Norden was prepared to make a pitching swap with Sunday in mind. Helleloid's mindset was simple: "When we went out, Landon [Waddell, the starting catcher] and I just told each other that we were going to hit the zone and attack and get as many outs as we can," Helleloid said.
Helleloid sent down the first batter of the inning on three straight strikes for the first out of the inning. Then, a lack of patience and heightened sense of urgency led the second batter to swing at Helleloid's first offering, which resulted in a groundout to shortstop Dylan Soulek.
At that moment, Norden elected not to push his luck any further and brought Helleloid in with 78 total pitches.
"If it's the inning prior, probably not," Norden said of the situation and deciding the appropriate time to pull Helleloid. "Allowing him to go out for the last inning, I told him, 'You've got six pitches,' and he was able to get two outs in four, which was awesome."
Peyton Mandel was sent in to finish off the game and record a one-out save, which took six pitches, with the third and final batter flying out to Brock Sparks in left field.
"I didn't really expect to come in that late, but I was ready for it," Mandel said. "... I just had to go out there and throw strikes, make them put the ball in play and not give up any walks."
"I had total confidence in Peyton," Helleloid added. "He's been a guy for us all year and been able to come in and close games, so I had all the faith in him."
What further underscores Helleloid's impressive performance is a look at the situations from early in the contest. Through two innings, Helleloid had thrown 31 pitches to get six outs, well off the pace needed to keep his pitch count below the 80-pitch threshold through a full contest.
It was at that juncture the ace locked into a rhythm that saw him retire 14 of the final 15 batters, including the last 12 consecutively, he faced.
"I had faith that my teammates were going to make plays behind me and it was just confidence from that point on," Helleloid said.
He needed 36 pitches to record nine outs in the third through fifth frames, but nothing topped the final 1 2/3 innings, as Helleloid threw just 11 pitches to record five outs.
The first day of action saw top arms such as Pierre's Lincoln Kienholz and Rapid City Post 22's Palmer Jacobs max out their pitch counts over 100, rendering them ineligible should either team make it to Sunday.
But while Mitchell's path to Sunday still has several hurdles — the first of which is a Thursday night contest against the hosts from Post 22 — the potential payoff for managing Helleloid's pitch count is immense. Helleloid, a finalist for Class A player of the year in the spring, would likely be the top pitcher available for either team in a potential championship game, provided Post 18 advances to that stage.
"Obviously you have to make it there first, but to have that option is very key in this short amount of time," Norden said. "The other thing it does is it allows us to use some other guys in the middle crunch and have that option. It's just a luxury that we were able to finish in that situation."