The evidence speaks for itself: When Simon Kenton’s baseball team qualifies for the state tournament, good things are bound to happen.
With its 5-2 win over Marion County on Friday, the Pioneers reached the state championship game for the second time in the last four seasons. Simon Kenton reached the state finals in 2014, its only other previous appearance in the event.
Only one player on this year’s squad — Trent Kincaid — played on the 2014 team. He was 2-for-3 with an RBI on Friday.
“He was huge as a freshman and he was huge today,” Pioneers Coach Troy Roberts said. “ … He’s a big-time guy. The bigger the moment, the better he is.”
This year’s team may be mostly new, but the road it’s taken to the finals has been eerily similar to that 2014 club.
Simon Kenton was the home team in three wins to make the finals in 2014. The first two games were tight — 2-1 over Southwestern and 1-0 over Hazard — before a blowout of South Laurel.
The Pioneers were the home team in its three wins to make this year’s title game. The first two were close — 3-1 over Clark County and 3-2 against Muhlenberg County. Simon Kenton didn’t run away against Marion County, but as it did against South Laurel three years ago, it used a big inning to take command late.
“There’s so many similarities, it’s crazy,” Roberts said. “ … A lot of the same qualities that team had is what we share with this group. The family-ness, the togetherness, the ‘Let’s not quit, who cares if I strike out the next guy’s got me, who cares if I make an error.’ That’s kinda the best way I can some it up. They really buy into winning the next pitch.”
In 2014, Kincaid started at either second base or shortstop, depending on who was on the mound for the Pioneers. Now the full-time shortstop, he has a chance to close his career with a championship after coming oh-so-close as a rookie; Simon Kenton fell to St. Xavier 5-2 in its first finals appearance.
Roberts said there’s “no doubt” that whoever was to come out of Friday’s second semifinal would be favored against his Pioneers.
“We love that,” Roberts said. “These guys love being the underdog and we love people overlooking us, thinking we’re not as good as we are. And that’s fine. We’ll take it every day.”
Pleasure Ridge Park defeated McCracken County 6-3 to advance to its 10th baseball championship game. Only Owensboro (12) has played for more titles than the Panthers, who could win their sixth state title with a win on Saturday (tying them with Owensboro and Manual for second-most; St. Xavier is 7-for-8 in title games). They defeated Simon Kenton 9-3 on March 24, but University of Louisville commit Garrett Schmeltz pitched in that game; he will not be available after pitching a complete game against the Mustangs.
PRP Coach Bill Miller, the state’s all-time leader with 1,131 wins, has guided the Panthers to each of their title appearances. He’s continued coaching since being diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer in Sept. 2015. The Courier-Journal reported Wednesday that Miller’s cancer is not in complete remission, but he told the outlet that the “medication I’m taking seems to be trending the cancer in the right direction.”
A TV reporter asked after the game if this year’s run feels different than any of PRP’s previous trips. This go-around is PRP’s first state tournament appearance since 2013, when it won its last championship.
“I don’t know if it’s a different feel,” Miller said. “It’s just, with these guys right here, I want them to do well.”
Simon Kenton (28-15) vs. Pleasure Ridge Park (40-5)
11 a.m. at Whitaker Bank Ballpark