For a brief moment, Simon Kenton appeared on the cusp of making an epic rally in the Whitaker Bank/KHSAA State Baseball Tournament championship game Saturday afternoon.
But, as it did 13 other times this season in one-run situations, Pleasure Ridge Park survived. The Panthers (40-5) cuffed a three-run rally by Simon Kenton (27-16) in the bottom of the seventh inning to walk away with a 6-5 win and their sixth state baseball championship.
Panthers Coach Bill Miller, who has continued coaching since being diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer in September 2015, got doused with water in the postgame celebration. He was able to avoid the water cooler when he guided the Panthers to their first title in 1994.
“I was faster back in that day and I didn’t get it,” Miller said with a grin. “I’m not quite as fast as I used to be.”
Simon Kenton, which had a couple base-running miscues early in the game, rallied in the final frame. Kyle Taylor and Trent Kincaid hit back-to-back doubles to start the seventh before a bang-bang call at first base kept Brennan Baker from reaching. Brayden Trattles walked and advanced on a groundout that scored Kincaid. Zane Fuqua singled to bring Trattles in and got to second on a throwing error, but Joey Ponder grounded to third and couldn’t beat the throw to first.
“This is a scary ball club,” said Miller, whose team went 14-1 in one-run decisions. “It seems like every game the winning run or the tying run is on base, and somehow they persevere.”
Miller fought back tears as he started to speak about his players’ will to win and how gratifying their victory was.
“Everybody wants to flip it over and make it for me. It isn’t for me. It’s for them. It’s for those coaches and those players,” Miller said. “Tomorrow morning I’m gonna go to work. It’s not gonna change my life. But this is something they’ll remember and will remember the rest of their lives. They’ll have that bonding 20 years from now. Every one of them will be a star.”
Three of Simon Kenton’s first four batters singled to help it take a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first. A 4-3-2-5 double play ended the Pioneers’ threat after a runner at third got caught in a rundown.
PRP pounced in the next frame. It scored four runs on four hits, with nine-hole hitter Noah McDonald driving in two on a one-out single to give the Panthers their first lead. Jalil Akbar popped up to drive in a third run before a throwing error by Simon Kenton catcher Hunter Faehr allowed a fourth run to score.
Simon Kenton got a run back thanks to an RBI single by Faehr in the bottom of the second. A base hit and a walk put two Pioneers on with two outs in the fifth inning, but a single by pitcher Bailey Martin ended up for naught as PRP caught another runner between third and home to end the rally.
The Panthers added insurance runs in the third and fourth innings. They finished the game with 13 hits, their highest output of the tournament.
Dallas Glass got his 11th win of the season after allowing two runs on seven hits. David Aguilar got his eighth save of the year after coming on to relieve Bryce Phillips for the final out.
Third baseman Nick Rucker was named MVP of the tournament. He was 7-for-13 with four RBI in the event.
PRP improved its record to 6-4 in finals appearances and tied Manual and Owensboro for the second-most championships in state history. St. Xavier leads with seven.
Miller, who leads the state with 1,132 wins in 38 years as a head coach, has guided the Panthers to 17 state tournaments. He was asked whether this would put a cap on his career at PRP.
“I want to see the baseball program be prosperous, and if that’s with me being the coach, that’s what I want. If it’s somebody else, so be it,” Miller said. “I don’t plan on going anywhere. But you know what? Everybody has got their day, and I don’t know when that’ll be.”
For the sixth time, the day was PRP’s.
MVP—Nick Rucker, Pleasure Ridge Park
Team—Noah McDonald, Pleasure Ridge Park; Garrett Schmeltz, Pleasure Ridge Park; Trent Kindcaid, Simon Kenton; Mitchell Kreidenweis, Simon Kenton; Bailey Martin, Simon Kenton; James Michael Dodd, McCracken County; Luke Seed, McCracken County; Andrew Spalding, Marion County; Luke Thomas, Marion County; Ethan Doty, Highlands; Cooper Robb, Scott County; Seth Hill, Knox Central; Brennan Myers, Muhlenberg County