University of Louisville designated hitter Jeff Gardner recalled a recent home game when he was leaving Jim Patterson Stadium.
Gardner was going to his car and senior reserve Matt Helms was walking into the Shad Mason Hack Shack, the batting cages at the U of L baseball complex.
”He’s in the Hack Shack all the time,” Gardner said.
On Saturday, those extra cuts paid off. Helms, who only had 40 at-bats the entire season and hadn’t had an RBI since March 1, delivered in the clutch for the University of Louisville baseball team.
With two outs in the top of the seventh inning, Helms scratched out a single to left that scored two runs as the Cardinals forged ahead and later went on to score a 5-3 victory over No.2 seed Vandy before a sell out crowd of 3,503 fans.
”I have been ready every game,” Helms said. “I knew it was coming, so I knew that I had to be ready and to do it on this stage is a blessing.”
Helms last at-bat came 16 days prior to the Vandy game – against Rutgers – and it was just his 11th at-bat since March 27.
”I always tell these guys, the bus pulls up at everybody’s stop,” U of L coach Dan McDonnell said. “You have to be ready to get on it and I had no doubt that Matt was going to be ready to get on it. I am happy for him.
”A lot of guys would say this kid is one of the hardest workers on the team.
Helms, who played two years at Seminole State Community College, now has 13 RBIs during his two-year career at U of L. He’s a leader and favorite of his teammates. He normally comes into the game to play right field when Cole Sturgeon pitches but then is replaced if Sturgeon comes off the mound.
”It kills us to see him not play,” Gardner said. “But he knows his role and he plays it. It was great to see him do that and we don’t get the win tonight if it wasn’t for Matt Helms. He was huge for us.”
Helms said he hit in the batting cages twice a day the entire week leading up to the NCAA Super Regionals and was “ready for the chance.”
”I put myself in the situation,” Helms said. “I am not kidding you, I would say this is for the game, two outs and the runner on. I just put myself in a lot of situations that will get me ready for the game. It just happened to happen that way.
”And I am so thankful it worked out.”
Helms, who has his scuba diving license, pulled off the heroics for his team with his family in the stands. His mom and dad and “amazing sister” were in the stands. His parents drove nine hours from Eufaula, Okla., after driving 11.5 hours to Louisville last week for the NCAA Regional and then back home.
On this day, Helms had his number called and he delivered.
“The switch is always ready,” Helms said. “You have to come to the ball park every day feeling like you are going to be a starter. If you are not, then you won’t be ready. I come out there every day ready for my number to be called.”