GREENFORD-South Range junior Taylor Helon hadn't pitched significantly in two years, but she came into this season knowing the Raiders were counting on her to log a big chunk of innings.
Her first varsity start went off without a hitch.
The right-hander came within one pitch of a perfect game as South Range pummelled East Palestine 20-0 in five innings Tuesday at South Range High School.
"I was a little nervous taking the mound, but my teammates have a lot of belief in me so that helped," Helon said.
South Range moves to 2-1 overall and 2-0 in the Inter-Tri County League upper tier, while East Palestine drops to 0-3, 0-2.
South Range came into the season needing to overhaul the pitching staff after losing seniors Carly DeRose and Darrian Yanek who helped pitch the team to a district final last season. Helon is a big part of the Raiders' plans to reload for another deep run.
"I spent all winter preparing and taking pitching lessons," Helon said. "I knew it was going to be a challenge to replace the pitchers we lost and that the team was going to need me to pitch a lot."
"Taylor worked a lot on learning how to become a better pitcher," South Range coach Don Feren said. "To pitch well you have to put in a ton of work. We think we will have a deep pitching staff this year and she is a big part of it."
In addition to her nine strikeouts on the mound, Helon collected three singles and two RBIs. She had plenty of other help as Jordan Youngs had two triple and four RBIs, Codi Taylor had a double, a single and three RBIs and Stevie Taylor had a two-run homer.
"We lost some key players off of last year's team, but we feel like we have a lot of good players that work well together and are ready to step up," Youngs said.
East Palestine catcher Haley Huff broke up Helon's perfect game with two outs in the fifth. She worked the count full, and fouled off two pitches before hitting a soft single past Lydia Baird at second base.
"I started thinking about it a little bit that inning," Helon said. "It was a little disappointing but we still got the win."
South Range is at Crestview today. East Palestine is at Lisbon on Thursday.
With a plethora of underclassmen, East Palestine coach Dan McKinstry aknowledged a leadership vacuum on his team.
"Our communication isn't very good," McKinstry said. "We are making a lot of mental mistakes and are looking for somebody to step up and be a leader right now. It's not a criticism, it just is what it is."
Huff's single was the first East Palestine ball to clear the infield. It was also the first time Helon ran the count to three balls.
Taylor's home run in the third inning was her second of the year.
SR-Taylor Helon, wp, (5IP, 0BB, 9K) and Chelsea McNeal.
EP-Carson Rutledge, lp, (4IP, 6BB, 1K) and Haley Huff.