CARY, N.C.—They way they’ve pitched, The First Academy Royals haven’t needed to score much.
But they’ve done it enough to reach the championship game of the National High School Invitational.
The First Academy (Orlando, Fla.) nearly got its third straight shutout, knocking out Regis Jesuit (Colo.) 6-2 Wednesday afternoon.
TFA’s opponent in the final will come from the winner of the Gainesville-Clovis/Huntsville-Coral Springs quarterfinals to be played later today.
Sidearming lefthander Jason Helgeson baffled Regis Jesuit with fastball that was consistently 74-75 mph and a sweeping breaking ball. He kept Regis off the board until two outs in the seventh when Brooks Urich hit a two-run single.
“A really good hitting team and he kept them off balance the whole game,” TFA coach Scott Grove said. “For a sophomore to be on this type of stage is really unbelievable.”
Peyton Hopkins came on to get Max George to fly to left for the final out.
TFA has showcased its lefthanded arms in the NHSI. It blanked Milton (Ga.) 2-0 in its first game Wednesday behind Foster Griffin. It shut out Dyer County (Newbern, Tenn.) earlier Thursday behind Virginia commit Adam Haseley and nearly had a third whitewash against Regis.
“We just have real quality arms,” Grove said. “I think they know how to pitch. We want to pitch ahead and make and execute pitches when we’re ahead in the count. It’s nothing I’m doing; it’s all on the kids. They’re doing a great job.”
Grove said righthander Thomas Headley will start in the title game.
Helgeson, a tall and lanky lefthander, said he developed his extreme sidearm motion—his coach called it the Down Under—last summer.
“One day I started throwing like that and coach liked it,” Helgeson said. As for what strategy he had against Regis, Helgeson said, “Just try and get ground balls. I believe in my fielders.”
As they did against Dyer County, the Royals scored early against Regis starter Reagan Todd, an Arizona State commit.
Todd was consistently at 85-86 and flashed 88, but TFA pushed the action. Haseley, who blanked Dyer County earlier Thursday, led off the first with a walk and moved to second on a sacrifice. An error on Regis third baseman Justin Thaxton followed on a grounder by Cody Oerther and then Griffin singled.
Helgeson struck out, but Hopkins walked to score a run and Trenton Fiscus, who was 2-for-2 against Dyer, dropped a two-run single into right for a 3-0 lead.
Todd went 4 2/3 and gave up four runs. He was wild, walking five and throwing three wild pitches.
TFA added two runs in the sixth on Griffin’s hard double to left. Griffin and Haseley each reached base in all four of their plate appearances.
Helgeson gave up eight hits, but walked only one batter. A fit of wildness hit in the seventh when he hit two batters in a row.
Both he and Grove wanted to see Helgeson close out the shutout.
“I just told him to breathe and keep pounding the zone,” Grove said.
Helgeson didn’t get the shutout, but TFA got the win.