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Keele, Helton bolster Trojan bullpen

Jack Keele and Brooks Helton are having great seasons for the Trojans (Photos provided by Trevecca Athletics/G Ruff)

When Trevecca coach Chase Sain strolls to the mound to make a change, he’s usually made a call to Warren County just before. After all, the Trojan bullpen is currently powered by former Pioneers.

Brooks Helton and Jack Keele have become indispensable members of the arm barn in Nashville, helping Trevecca amass a 32-12 record. Going into this weekend’s matchup with Cedarville, Helton owns a 5-0 record and has one save, while Keele leads the team with seven saves. Both possess miniscule ERAs, with Helton coming in at 1.93 and Keele owning a team-best 1.17 mark.

While both have been productive players their whole lives playing all over the diamond, pitching has been their calling – and their ticket to college. Emerging as the best bullpen options for Trevecca meant doing what they do best – get outs in high-leverage moments.

“It’s been pretty high pressure every time either of us gets into the game,” said Helton, a redshirt sophomore in his second season at Trevecca. “Extra innings, save opportunities, a game we absolutely need to win – it’s up to us to hold down an offense (at those times). There’s a lot of pressure in that moment but I’ve always wanted to be the guy you go to in those situations.”

Keele is the same way when the bright lights are pointed in his direction. Once “Shipping Up to Boston,” starts blaring, the lanky righty is making his way to the mound to mow guys down. He’s been doing just that of late – striking out 15 in his 15.1 innings of work for Trevecca.

There are only a handful of people on the roster who get more Ks than Keele – one being his longtime teammate. Helton is averaging a staggering 11.62 Ks per nine innings, tops on the team. The most impressive thing about the dominant work by both is that it comes after major injuries.

Keele and Helton have both had Tommy John surgery in recent years, with Helton’s coming shortly after high school and Keele’s happening in the midst of his freshman year in 2021.

Helton got to shake off the rust from surgery last year, making nine appearances (including four starts) last spring. When he finally got to toe the rubber after a near two-year absence from the game, Helton called it “a pure rush of emotions.”

He got to see Keele go through the same moment this spring. Keele was nearly two years removed from his last in-game action (his senior year at WCHS was cut short by COVID in 2020 and he didn’t pitch in 2021) when his coach gave him the ball Feb. 12 against Rockhurst.

Keele took over with his team leading 6-3 in the eighth and the tying run coming the plate. He was able to get out of the jam with a strikeout, an electrifying moment that served as his launching point in becoming the team’s closer and his welcome back to the sport.

“Being thrown into the action in a close game, I didn’t get a chance to be nervous. I just had to trust in my ability and throw,” said Keele about his first night back. “It was definitely a rush being able to experience the game again. My arm feels great (after surgery), but I am still trying to find certain pitches I had before.”

The pitches Keele and Helton are hurling right now are working just fine. Both have seen a bump in velocity since their surgeries, with Helton turning into a 90-plus MPH flamethrower and Keele working in the high 80s while still owning a wicked offspeed arsenal.

Being together in the bullpen has helped the duo have the right approach in the late innings. They can look to each other for guidance and direction – or just have a hype man at a whim – before they get the call and make the stroll to the bump.

Once they are standing there, usually surrounded by runners and anxious fans hoping for outs, it’s all about clearing the mind and going to work.

“The approach doesn’t change in high-stakes outings. You trust your stuff and know you’re better than the hitter at the plate. You can’t be timid – it almost has to be a ‘I’m blowing this by you and there’s nothing you can do about it’ mindset,” said Helton, who says his arm is better than it has ever been.

That win-at-all-cost mentality on the mound has led to the former Pioneers striking out 49 batters in 42 combined innings. It also has them thinking about winning at a major level, something they’ve done together for a long time.

Helton and Keele were successful in youth sports in Warren County, leading a young group to a national tournament at one point. They also were national champs with their Blueprint Baseball team in high school and were only denied more success with the Pioneers when Keele was foolishly left off the WCHS roster during his junior year.

Now that they’re reunited and it’s working so well, they have big aspirations for the Trojans.

“The goals for this year are win the G Mac [Great Midwest Conference] and win regions again so we can have a shot at winning a national championship,” said Keele.

Helton, who was part of the team’s run to the 2021 D2 College World Series, is in full agreement with his teammate.

“This goal is to win a national championship. I feel like we all know we have the talent to make it back, but this time the goal is winning it all,” said Helton.

If the Trojans make it to Cary, North Carolina – the site of the D2 championships – there’s a good chance Helton and Keele would have gotten the key final outs down the stretch to send them to the World Series.

They wouldn’t want it any other way.

Brooks Helton and Jack Keele went from star Pioneers to aces in the Trevecca bullpen (Trevecca photos provided by Greg Ruff/Trevecca Athletics)

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