When Simon Kenton won the boys' Sweet Sixteen basketball title in 1981, it was a bolt out of the blue.
Thirty-three years later, the Pioneers have a shot at pulling off an even bigger surprise by winning a state high school baseball championship.
The Northern Kentucky school is in position to do just that after beating South Laurel 11-1 on the 10-run rule in the semifinals of the Rawlings/KHSAA State Tournament at Whitaker Bank Ballpark Friday night.
Simon Kenton, a first-time region baseball champ, will play St. Xavier for the state title Saturday night.
Pioneers Coach Troy Roberts didn't see this coming. His unranked team lost six of its last eight regular-season games and began district play with a 17-16 record.
"Everybody makes this their goal, but honestly, to think you'll be in the state championship game? No, I couldn't have thought that," Roberts said. "It's like we're living a dream right now."
Tristen Marcum has been among Simon Kenton's dream weavers.
He threw a complete game in a 2-1 win over Southwestern on Monday, and the senior righty was just as tough against South Laurel. He went the distance again to run his record to 8-3.
In two appearances this week, Marcum pitched 13 innings, gave up two runs, nine hits, one walk and struck out four.
"Tristen gives us a chance to win every time he steps on the mound," Roberts said. "Today, coming back on short rest, he did it, man."
Simon Kenton has short-shrifted Marcum in run support in most of his starts, but that wasn't the case in the semifinals. The Pioneers parlayed 10 hits with six South Laurel errors to make it easy on their pitcher.
Senior third baseman Tyler Smith sparked the offense with two hits, three runs and two runs-batted-in. Price Burge had two doubles and an RBI. Trent Kincaid also had two hits and drove in a run.
"I had a feeling going into today that we were going to hit the ball," Smith said. "Actually, on the bus I told everybody we were going to have 16 hits. We only had 10, but we definitely woke the bats up."
South Laurel's only offense of the night was supplied by Zach Allen. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound junior hit a gapper to right that bounced around, allowing Allen to round the bases for an inside-the-park home run.
"The only bad pitch (Marcum) made all day," Roberts said.
Simon Kenton got all the runs it needed in the fourth when it scored six times on four hits and three errors.
South Laurel used four pitchers trying to quiet the Pioneers' bats, but good fortune wasn't in the cards for the Cards.
Coach Wynn Harris accented the positive experience his young team had this week in making school history by reaching the semifinals.
"It kind of stinks the way it ended, but there's no reason to regret anything, to second-guess, to point fingers of blame," he said.
"High school sports are meant to be fun, and it was. We had a blast."
St. Xavier 13, North Bullitt 4: St. X has won five state titles, the last one coming in 1981. That's also the last time the Tigers made it to the championship game.
Now they're finally back in the finals thanks to a big first inning against North Bullitt.
The Tigers couldn't have had a better start against the Eagles. Sam Springer ripped the first pitch of the game down the left-field line for a triple, and hits became contagious for St. X.
Josh Finerty singled and Andrew McCormick doubled to make it 2-0. After a flyout, Miles Lee's sacrifice fly added another run. Brandon Blaser's double and Avery Lane's single extended the lead to 4-0.
That was it for North Bullitt starter Brandon Johnson. Darren Harper came on in relief, but Dalton Dedas greeted him with an RBI single.
Down 5-0 before its first at-bat, North Bullitt still wasn't out of it. But St. X almost doubled its lead with four more runs in the fifth.
McCormick had his second double of the night, Avery Lane had an RBI double, and Dedas drove in his second run with a single.
St. X's 9-0 lead stood until the sixth when North Bullitt's bats finally came alive. The Eagles got hits from Ryan Henson, Keaton Reitz and Tyle Mayberry to load the bases, and they cashed in.
Justin Stinson and Chance Egor each got an RBI, and two runs scored on wild pitches to trim St. X's lead to 9-4.
But the Tigers weren't done with their offensive assault. They got four more runs in the seventh and pushed their hit total to 16.
St. Xavier 13, North Bullitt 4
St. Xavier 500 040 4—13 16 1
North Bullitt 000 004 0— 4 6 1
J.D. Mundt, Grant Wessling (6), Josh Finerty (6) and Dalton Dedas. Brandon Johnson, Darren Harper (1), Ryan Henson (6) and Chance Egor. 2B—Andrew McCormick, 2 (SX), Brandon Blaser (SX), Avery Lane (SX), Finerty (SX). 3B—Sam Springer (SX).
Records: St. Xavier 29-10, North Bullitt 30-11.
Simon Kenton 11, South Laurel 1
South Laurel 000 100— 1 4 6
Simon Kenton 010 604—11 10 1
Zach Allen, Trey Martin (4), Braden Miller (4), Daniel Neal (6) and Taylor Morris. Tristen Marcum and Michael Mundy. 2B—Price Burge, 2 (SK). HR—Allen (SL).
Records: South Laurel 29-9; Simon Kenton 25-16.