High School Baseball

State baseball: Mercer County, PRP move on to semifinals

Matthew Honchel pitched  a complete game for Mercer County, allowing two runs on seven hits and striking out nine.
Matthew Honchel pitched a complete game for Mercer County, allowing two runs on seven hits and striking out nine.

Mercer County got another monster smash from Colin Buckner and another victory in the Kentucky National Insurance/KHSAA State Tournament Thursday night.

Buckner, who launched a towering three-run homer in Mercer County's rout of Boyd County Tuesday night, did himself one better by pounding a grand slam to power the Titans past North Oldham 7-3 in the quarterfinals.

The 6-foot-1, 210-pound senior's blast in the first round hit the high-perched Ford sign that sits beyond the left-field bleachers at Whitaker Bank Ballpark. One estimate put the homer at 450 feet.

Buckner's bases-loaded shot against North Oldham didn't travel as far, but it had just as big an impact as it propelled Mercer County into Friday's semifinals.

This from a guy who had only two home runs in Mercer County's first 34 games.

How to explain his sudden power production?

"If you watch him take batting practice, you'd see what kind of power he has," Coach Jeremy Shope said. "He's just seeing it really well now. He's hit two big home runs in two games, and I hope he's got some more left in the tank."

Buckner, who's batting .400, said he's had a good stroke all season, "but I just couldn't get the ball elevated.

"Now I am."

Buckner wasn't the only star for Mercer County. Tyler Devine's two-run single in the first got the Titans off to a good start. And Matthew Honchel stepped up big hitting and pitching.

Honchel ripped a solo homer and a triple, drew a walk and was hit by a pitch. Counting Tuesday's game, he's been on base seven times in a row and he's scored five runs.

The senior left-hander also pitched a complete game, scattering seven hits, striking out nine and walking two.

When Honchel's pitch count surpassed 110, Shope went to the mound to check on him. But Honchel wanted to finish what he started.

"I'm going to play college baseball (at Miami of Ohio) but not as a pitcher, so I'm going to leave it all here," Honchel said.

North Oldham, which got two hits apiece from Connor Heady and Ryan Bruce, never could put together a big inning. It got a run in the fourth, one in the fifth and one in the seventh, but it couldn't break through against Honchel.

Mustangs starter Tim LeMastus didn't fare as well, especially against Buckner.

North Oldham Coach Matt Walker, who was in the stands Tuesday night when Buckner launched his tape-measure homer, visited LeMastus on the mound before he pitched to Buckner.

Walker decided to stick with his senior, and he didn't second-guess himself later.

"That kid's been hitting the ball hard all tournament, so I don't know if it mattered who was out there," Walker said.

"You've gotta give credit to the kid. He hit the homer in a clutch situation."

Even though a grand slam is the ultimate homer, Buckner liked his 450-foot shot better. "That's the farthest ball I've ever hit, so I enjoyed it pretty good," he said with a big smile.

Honchel, however, had a different opinion.

"I liked the grand slam better because I was pitching," he said with a laugh.

Yes, Mercer County is enjoying its first-ever state tournament.

Pleasure Ridge Park 10, Newport Central Catholic 4: PRP, which dug out of a 5-2 hole to beat Lexington Catholic 6-5 in nine innings in the first round, came from behind to beat NewCath, too.

The Panthers trailed 4-2 before roughing up NewCath starter Vance Sullivan in the fifth. Matt Mattingly laced an opposite-field two-run single to right to tie it. Shaun White and Chris Burk followed with back-to-back RBI singles.

PRP got four more runs in the sixth, three of them coming on a Cody Angus homer that rocketed over the Pepsi Party Deck in right field.

No. 9 PRP will play Mercer County in Friday night's semifinals. The Panthers are seeking their fifth state title. They have been runners-up four times.

NewCath led PRP 3-0 early. Luke Schmits' RBI single got things going in the first. Brian Doyle and Brady Hight-chew had back-to-back hits in the second and both scored on a throwing error.

After PRP closed the gap to 3-2, NewCath added a run in the fourth on Jake Cain's RBI double.

But it was all PRP after that.

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