Mercer County Coach Jeremy Shope tilts his head and wears an aw-shucks smile when he says: "We're just a small little school that just likes to play a little baseball."
Those were Shope's words after Mercer County beat error-plagued Henderson County 7-2 in the semifinals of the Forcht Bank/KHSAA State Tournament in front of 3,087 fans at Whitaker Bank Ballpark Friday night.
Shope, of course, knows nobody's buying his description of the Titans. They're not accidental tourists to the state finals. They were state runners-up to Central Hardin just two years ago.
"We don't have the best talent," Shope added, "but we have a bunch of guys that like to win and will compete to the end."
That's the truth as No. 13 Mercer County showed by upending the No. 5 Colonels.
Henderson County made seven errors — all in the first three innings — that helped determine its demise. But the fleet Titans forced some of those miscues by putting the ball in play.
"The coaches always tell us our speed rushes things," Mercer County's Chris Goodman said. "A lot of times it turns out like it did tonight — with the other team throwing it over or throwing it under.
"That seems to happen a lot against us because we run well and that puts pressure on the defense."
Mercer County took a 1-0 lead in the second when Goodman singled, went to second on a throwing error and eventually scored on another error.
The Titans broke it open with six in the third. A couple of Henderson County misplays helped fuel the rally, but Mercer County did lots of damage with run-scoring hits by Goodman, John Ingram, Layne Peavler and Jon Banks.
"We told them to avoid strikeouts and put the ball in play," Shope said. "If they get us out, they get us out, but there's nothing like putting on that pressure. We did a great job of doing that."
J.T. Long did a great job on the mound for Mercer County. The junior right-hander followed a complete-game shutout of Apollo on Monday with a complete game against Henderson County. He scattered eight hits, struck out six and walked two.
Long said he wasn't a bit tired going in. "I was excited. My adrenaline was going. I had my stuff. I felt good."
Shope said he "mulled over who to throw. But I could see the look in (Long's) eyes. There was no question who'd get the ball today."
Henderson County Coach Nathan Isenberg, who led the Colonels to a state runner-up finish last year, said his team's shoddy defense was uncharacteristic. But once the errors began, they seemed to snowball. "No doubt," he said, "because most of them were mental."
Henderson County's seven errors were the most in the state tournament since West Jessamine had seven against Shelby County in 2010.
Isenberg tipped his cap to Mercer County.
"They're going to give somebody trouble (in the finals)," he said. "They're the scrappiest bunch I've seen."
Just a little school trying to play a little baseball and win a state championship.
Pleasure Ridge Park 10, Central Hardin 3: After crushing Central Hardin, four-time champ PRP will try for a fifth title against Mercer County Saturday night.
No. 6 PRP trailed No. 1 Central Hardin 2-0 before getting 10 runs in the third.
It was the inning that wouldn't end.
The Panthers sent 14 batters to the plate, seven collected hits, including RBI triples by Jacob Clair and Blake Stewart, and a two-run single by Joe Hatcher. PRP also took advantage of three Central Hardin errors in the inning.
Hunter Johnson got the win for the Panthers. He had early control problems — both Central Hardin runs scored on wild pitches — but he steadied himself and went the distance. Johnson gave up three hits, struck out seven, walked four and hit three.
PRP Coach Bill Miller has his two top arms — Kyle Olliges (10-2) and Greg Laughlin (11-1) — to choose from to start against Mercer County.
Henderson County 100 010 0—2 8 7
Mercer County 016 000 x—7 7 1
Marty Coursey, Colton Jones (6) and Andrew Richmond. J.T. Long and Curry Brown. 2B--Justin Cessna (HC), Sam Higgs (HC).
Records--Henderson Co. 31-9; Mercer Co. 30-9
Central Hardin 101 000 1—3 4 3
PRP 00(10) 000 x—10 10 1
Troy Squires, Luke McCamish (2) and Gabe Hogan. Hunter Johnson and Joe Hatcher. 2B--Troy Riggs (CH). 3B--Blake Stewart (PRP), Jacob Clair (PRP).
Records--Central Hardin 34-6; PRP 37-3
State baseball finals
Mercer Countyvs. Pleasure Ridge Park
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Whitaker Bank Ballpark
Radio: WVLK-FM 101.5
Live video: Watch iHigh.com's broadcast live on Kentucky.com.
Mike Fields: (859) 231-3337. Twitter: @MikeFieldsNotes. Blog: fieldsnotes.bloginky.com.