'Go out and pitch': Jake Helleloid, Landon Waddell power deep, talented group of Kernel arms
Helleloid and Waddell are top-two on Mitchell's roster in numerous statistical categories, including innings pitched, wins, strikeouts and ERA.
MITCHELL — Though the Mitchell High School baseball team is preparing for the Class A state baseball tournament and not a high-stakes poker game, the pair of aces the Kernels hold would inspire confidence in either scenario.
While the production of Mitchell’s bats has waxed and waned after a torrid start to the season, the pitching staff’s steady brilliance has shined through as of late, led by a pair of all-state arms in Jake Helleloid and Landon Waddell.
On Mitchell’s roster — and arguably the state — no two pitchers have been better than the pair of hard-throwing senior right-handers and Dakota Wesleyan baseball commits.
“They’ve just been [strike] zone-pounders and haven’t tried to do too much,” said Mitchell coach Luke Norden. “They’ve both been working hard to get their off-speed more in the strike zone and they’ve done a good job of that, too.”
In diagnosing the other's biggest strength, Waddell points to the control Helleloid has over his outside fastball, while Helleloid thinks Waddell excels most with throwing his off-speed pitches, particularly his curveball, for strikes.
Helleloid, who often plays third base or serves as the designated hitter when not pitching, has been nothing short of prolific in the strikeout department, piling up 53 compared to just 11 walks in a team-high 30 1/3 innings. For the season, the 6-foot-1 first-team all-state pick has surrendered just 19 hits and nine total runs, only four of which were earned, to post a 5-1 record on the mound with a 0.92 earned run average.
But it’s Helleloid’s recent form that stands out most. Since May 1, Helleloid has made four appearances, three of which were starts, without allowing an earned run.
The first game of his dominant stretch came May 6 against Brookings, which finished the season one place ahead of Mitchell as the No. 3 overall seed. Against the Bobcats, Helleloid put forth perhaps the single best pitching performance by a Kernel all season by throwing a 12-strikeout complete game. He needed just 82 pitches to do so, surrendering only one walk and three hits.
One week later in a doubleheader against Yankton, Helleloid recorded a three-out save in the first game before turning around to start the second, where he racked up 10 strikeouts in just four innings of work. Then, with a state tournament bid on the line against Harrisburg on May 21, Helleloid sent 10 more batters down on strikes in 5 1/3 innings to help Mitchell reach the final weekend of the spring season.
“Jake was pretty steady, but he wasn’t given the opportunity to throw some of the bigger games for us and throw in the postseason (last year),” Norden recalled. “I think he’s kind of gritting his teeth and wanting that opportunity this year. He’s just got that competitive edge and jumps on the mound and says, ‘I’m better than you.’”
Not to be outdone, Waddell’s stat line was truly remarkable through four regular-season starts. Across 22 2/3 innings pitched, the 6-foot-4 second-team all-state selection maintained a 0.00 ERA and just three unearned runs crossed under his watch. Further, Waddell, who plays behind the plate when not on the mound, has had an outing shorter than five innings this season, going at least 5 2/3 with more than 100 pitches in four of his five starts.
Waddell’s best statistical game of the season came at home against Sioux Falls Jefferson on April 26, when he no-hit the Cavaliers through 5 2/3 innings and racked up 12 strikeouts. Though that same Jefferson put up the first earned runs of the season in the first-round regional game on May 21, Waddell still struck out eight batters and picked up the win.
That playoff performance ran his season totals to 28 2/3 innings with 44 strikeouts and a win-loss mark of 4-0, with just eight hits and 21 walks allowed.
It’s hard to overstate the impact the pair has had on the Kernels’ successes, particularly on advancing through the regional bracket as the No. 4 overall seed, but the pitching staff features several other talented arms, allowing Mitchell to post a team ERA of 2.79.
“I think the biggest thing for us is if we have a pitching staff that can go out and throw shutout innings, it makes it easier for our offense to be comfortable,” Waddell said. “The pressure ramps up (in the postseason), but I feel like I do better when something is on the line. The focus doesn’t change, we have to go out and pitch well.”
“The pressure doesn’t really affect me, I just have to go out there and do a job,” added Helleloid. “You have to close out games. Right now, we’re just hitting the ball and throwing strikes and it’s working out. ”
As Waddell and Helleloid agree, the whole staff has just been adhering to an oft-used Norden quip: “Don’t throw. Go out and pitch.”
With Helleloid or Waddell expected to make the start against top-seeded Sioux Falls Roosevelt in the first state semifinal at noon Saturday, a bevy of arms to choose from behind them and a lineup capable of producing runs in bunches, the No. 4 Kernels have all the pieces necessary to claim a state title at Sioux Falls Stadium.
“If we keep the energy up, good things are going to happen,” Helleloid said.
“I feel like we can beat anybody out there,” added Waddell. “If we all go out and play our best and do our jobs, we can go out and win a state title.”