Trust your stuff.
It’s good advice for young pitchers with a solid defense behind them, and it’s the mantra that helped Nation Ford’s Dalton Helms earn 2013 All-Area Baseball Player of the Year honors.
“Throughout the year he was our dominant pitcher, no doubt our No. 1,” said Nation Ford head baseball coach Michael Matkovich. “Besides pitching, he was our No. 2 hitter. He basically does it all.”
Helms batted .348 with a home run and 16 RBI, but it was as a starting pitcher where he was stiflingly good for the Falcons. The junior went 8-1 with a 0.89 earned run average, throwing three two-hitters, a one-hitter and a no-hitter. Over the last two regular season Helms is 14-0.
“I trust my stuff and I trust my defense,” Helms said. “And they made plays all year.”
Helms, who has a 4.4 grade point average, was smart enough to avoid trying to do too much. That restraint, and his teammates, helped him dominate area hitters.
“It’s an honor just because of the people we play with in our region,” said Helms. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my defense and my catcher, Justin Johnson, who played there all year. I could trust what I was going to throw knowing the ball wasn’t going to get past him.”
Helms struck out 35 batters in 47.1 innings, relying on a cutter to make batters whiff, but more importantly, a devastating curveball to get them to put the ball on the ground in the infield.
“He’s not a strikeout pitcher,” said Matkovich. “Our defense was pretty good so he was confident that when he threw the ball over the plate that our guys would make a play on it. He doesn’t go up there thinking he’s going to overpower anybody. His walks were limited and he doesn’t make many mistakes. That’s why he’s so successful.”
No outing was more demonstrative of Helms’ control than the combined no-hitter he threw with Josh Corley in a 9-0 victory over York on April 12. Cougars coach Scot Kiggans was most impressed by “his command of the zone. He was able to hit every spot, at least when we played him he was. He hit his spots with every pitch he had.”
The Falcons were blessed with a college-looking pitching staff. Thanks to that depth, Matkovich gave Helms a day or two advance notice before starts. That allowed Helms to mentally zeroed in ahead of his appearance, which led to sharp starts. One of the common threads in his two-hit or better performances was a spotless first couple innings.
“I felt like if I got through the lineup one time, knowing what people were gonna do and how they reacted to different pitches I throw, the snowball effect just kind of helped me get through,” said Helms.
Helms also played at the corners of the infield and in the outfield. Despite his diamond versatility, he is getting more recruiting interest – Duke, Richmond, Charlotte, Furman – in football. He earned All-Region honors as the Falcons’ quarterback last season.
“If it doesn’t work out for football, I would definitely try and go play somewhere for baseball,” Helms said. “I like sports; I can’t sit still and like to be in something.”
Matkovich coaches Helms in both sports as he is an assistant coach for Nation Ford’s football team. For Matkovich, the best part about Helms is that he’s in 11th grade.
“That’s why I’m still smiling right now,” said the coach, laughing.
Bret McCormick • 329-4032. Twitter: @BretJust1T