Something changed for the Helias baseball team during the Crusaders' five-game spring training trip in Florida.
"Our first two games here were one-loss games," Helias coach Chris Wyrick said. "Our competition level wasn't the greatest in those two losses.
"In Florida, something clicked, and we learned how to compete."
That ability to compete kicked in Tuesday night, when the Crusaders overcame an early deficit and rallied for a walk-off 2-1 win against the Boonville Pirates at the American Legion Post 5 Sports Complex.
"We grinded that thing out," Wyrick said.
Helias managed just two hits through five innings against Boonville starting pitcher Jamesian McKee. The third hit came in the sixth, when Sam Schell hit a long single into the right-center field gap with two outs, scoring Kaden Hampson to tie the game at 1.
"I wonder where that ball would have went if the wind wasn't blowing in," Wyrick said. "That probably goes to the fence."
In the bottom of the seventh, Sam Wyrick reached on an error with one out, then advanced to second on a balk. Will Herrbold took over as a pinch-runner, representing the winning run.
No. 9 hitter Alex Loethen drew a four-pitch walk, getting Helias back to the top of the order.
"If the bottom third of the lineup can get on base for the top, that really puts the stress on the pitcher," Wyrick said.
Leadoff batter Jacob Weaver was hitless in his first three trips to the plate, but he lined an 0-1 pitch from Bryce Harris into right field, scoring Herrbold to win the game.
"These guys are learning one at-bat doesn't make a game," Wyrick said. "You can bounce back and have another opportunity to make a difference for your team."
Both Herrbold and Loethen were stealing on the pitch, which allowed Herrbold to score easily without a play at the plate. The Crusaders stole three bases and also had a successful hit-and-run in the first inning.
"That's going to have to be our game, because we're not going to hit the ball out of the ballpark, especially on days like today when the wind is blowing in," Wyrick said.
Boonville scored its run in the top of the second inning. Cade Schupp led off with a double to left field and scored on a single back up the middle by McKee.
The Pirates had another chance to add to their lead in the third. With runners on first and third base with one out, Saylor Marquez hit a short pop-up into shallow right field, but Helias second baseman Aleck Barchenski drifted back to make the catch.
Boonville's Hunter Pethan took off for home plate, stopping halfway down the third-base line before retreating. The throw came in to catcher Ethan Holzhauser, who fired the ball to third base to get Pethan out to end the inning.
"If we don't play catch there, we don't get them out and they possibly score a run that inning," Wyrick said.
Helias pitcher Nate Roark retired the next six batters he faced. Although he got the no-decision, Roark allowed one run on three hits with one walk and six strikeouts in five innings.
"It was basically a carbon copy of the game he pitched in Florida," Wyrick said. "His last two starts, in 12 innings he's given up five hits and only one earned run. We like what we're getting from him."
Cole Peters pitched the next 1 innings for the Crusaders, walking two. Brandon Scheulen threw just three pitches, but he picked up the win by ending the top of the seventh with a flyout to right field, stranding two runners.
"Our pitchers are giving us a chance," Wyrick said. "We just have to figure out how to score more runs."
Zach Wolken and Jacob Watson each singled for Helias, which finished with four hits to Boonville's three.
McKee went six strong innings for Boonville (0-2), giving up one run on three hits with three walks and three strikeouts.
"We'll take it," Wyrick said. "We beat a quality team with a really good pitcher."
Helias (6-2) is off until next Wednesday when it begins Central Missouri Activities Conference play at Hickman. After that, the Crusaders will play four games in three days in the Jay Baseball Classic.
The long break is coming at the right time for Helias, Wyrick said.
"They're a little tired," he said. " We'll get back at it Monday, so we'll get two practices in, and then I think we'll be fine."
In Tuesday's JV game, Helias won 5-1 to improve to 5-2. Billy Underwood had two hits, while Miles Gresham was the winning pitcher for the Crusaders.