Pleasure Ridge Park entered Friday as the second-ranked team in the state. It left Friday as the favorite to win this year’s state title.
PRP knocked off No. 1 McCracken County, 6-3, in the semifinals of the Whitaker Bank/KHSAA State Baseball Tournament to set up a finals matchup with No. 20 Simon Kenton at 11 a.m. Saturday.
It will be the Panthers’ 10th appearance in the state finals, all under longtime coach Bill Miller. PRP, which has won 14 straight games, is 5-4 in the finals.
Garrett Schmeltz, who’s committed to the University of Louisville, allowed three runs (one earned) on five hits. The junior struck out four McCracken County batters.
Miller said Schmeltz wasn’t in rare form Friday afternoon.
“From about the third or fourth inning on we felt like he didn’t have his best stuff,” Miller said. “He never settled in today. That wasn’t the Schmeltz we’ve seen all year long. But you know what? We won the game.”
Box score: Pleasure Ridge Park 6, McCracken County 3
PRP scored its first run in the third inning when Dalton Smith was hit by a pitch, advanced to second on a sac bunt and came home on a fielding error. A sac bunt by Tyler Redmon got PRP’s second run of the game across in the fourth inning before the Panthers capitalized on three consecutive two-out singles, two stolen bases and a throwing error to take a 5-0 lead.
Shortstop Jalil Akbar gave PRP (39-5) a little more insurance with a solo homer to left field to lead off the fifth. The slender junior caught a line drive to end the game that most likely would have scored two McCracken County runs and put the go-ahead run at the plate for the Mustangs.
“We wouldn’t trade our middle for anybody’s in the state. They just play hard,” Miller said.
He continued with a laugh: “And if Jalil, if he could gain about a pound or two and get up to about 100 pounds he could be a good player.”
McCracken County got runners aboard in every inning but had a man picked off in each of the first three innings. PRP was ready to get outs between the bags.
“We were concerned with their bunting and their base-running. We worked on that every day,” Miller said. “Their aggressiveness helped us. … They were aggressive and we were fortunate to get the good throw at the right time.”
Caleb Reinhardt went 3 2/3 for McCracken County, allowing five runs (two earned) on four hits. He got the start in place of junior ace Luke Seed, who did not see the mound because of discomfort in his elbow.
Rook Ellington, a junior center fielder who’s committed to the University of Kentucky, was 2-for-4 with two RBI for the Mustangs, who finished 34-6 and fell in the state semifinals for a second straight season.
“We had some shots in there, maybe with a two-out hit here and there, to cut the lead, but (Schmeltz) made pitches when he had to,” McCracken County Coach Geno Miller said. “There at the end we fought hard. It just fell a little short.”