LEXINGTON, Ky. -- The Simon Kenton baseball team won’t soon forget its memorable journey to Whitaker Bank Ballpark this June.
And although the Pioneers finished as the state runner-up Saturday afternoon, the players, coaches and school community will cherish how this team came together as a brotherhood.
Simon Kenton scored three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning, but the rally came up just short as Pleasure Ridge Park defeated the Pioneers 6-5 in the state final in front of 1,962 at Whitaker Bank Ballpark.
“I’m proud of them,” Simon Kenton coach Troy Roberts said. “They fought their butts off -- that’s all I can say.”
Players and coaches fought back emotion shortly after the game, as they met together for a final time in Lexington in shallow right field for about 10 minutes.
“We had a heck of a season, and there is nothing to be hanging our heads about,” said senior Trent Kincaid, whose RBI double in the seventh led to the first of three runs in that frame.
“We showed everybody that we can come out and play, and we did.”
Simon Kenton (27-16) made a state final appearance for the second time in program history and the first since they were the state runner-up in 2014.
Trailing 6-2 entering the bottom of the seventh, it looked as if the Pioneers were going to pull out an incredible come-from-behind win in dramatic fashion. Roberts felt like a rally was going to happen.
Junior Kyle Taylor doubled to center and scored on Kincaid’s double down the left-field line to make it 6-3.
Junior Brennen Baker was nearly safe on an infield grounder for the first out. Roberts argued the call.
“I would love to see a replay of it, but I thought he was safe,” Roberts said after the game.
Had Baker reached, that would’ve given Simon Kenton bases loaded after junior Brayden Trattles followed up with a walk.
Kincaid later scored on a ground out by junior Bailey Martin to make it 6-4.
Then, junior Zane Fuqua singled to right, and Trattles scored on a throwing error to make it 6-5. Fuqua advanced to second but was stranded on a ground out to end the game.
Simon Kenton rallied to defeat Marion County 5-2 Friday and tied for the most number of wins (27) in program history.
The Pioneers proved critics wrong this spring.
“We knew we were a heck of a club,” Roberts said. “We knew we could make a run. People didn’t expect it. We did.”
Taylor was 3-for-4 with a double and two runs scored Saturday. Kincaid finished 2-for-4 with an RBI double.
“I will remember just having fun and everybody has each other’s backs,” Kincaid said. “I feel they will be good next year. I feel like they will be as good as they were last year.”
Kincaid, senior pitcher Mitchell Kreidenweis and junior pitcher Bailey Martin were named to the All-Tournament Team. Highlands pitcher Ethan Doty was also named to the team.
Saturday marked the fourth consecutive season a Northern Kentucky team reached the state baseball final.
Campbell County (216), Highlands (2015) and Simon Kenton (2014) were all state runners-up. Northern Kentucky hasn’t won a state baseball title since Covington Catholic in 2002.
“It has been an exciting year in athletics at Simon Kenton, as we have won seven regional titles over the course of the 2016-17 school year and this state tournament is the icing on the cake,” Simon Kenton Athletic Director Jeff Marksberry said earlier this week.
Simon Kenton earned a solid start in the first inning Saturday when Trattles lined a pitch to right on a 3-2 count to score Taylor.
However, Pleasure Ridge Park scored four runs in the top of the second inning.
Noah McDonald’s one-out single to left scored two runs. Then, Jalil Akbar’s sacrifice fly scored another run. A throwing error allowed the Panthers to take a 4-1 lead.
Simon Kenton cut the deficit to 4-2 in the bottom of the second inning, when senior Hunter Faehr singled to center to score senior Joey Ponder.
But, the Pioneers left two runners on base. And Simon Kenton needed every opportunity Saturday.
Pleasure Ridge Park added another run in the third when Tyler Redmon singled to left to score Dylan Carnes from second, making it 5-2.
Pleasure Ridge Park scored in the fourth when Nick Rucker had a sacrifice fly to deep right to score McDonald, giving the Panthers a 6-2 lead.
The Pioneers threatened in the fifth with runners at first and second and two outs. Martin singled to left center, but a Simon Kenton runner made a wide turn at third and was thrown out trying to return.
“If I don’t screw up there in the sixth, we win this thing,” Roberts said. “It’s on me.”
Roberts told his players after the game how proud he was of the effort all season. Simon Kenton graduates five seniors.
“This was a fun group,” Roberts said. “Some really good careers ended today, and that’s hard.”
Pleasure Ridge Park (40-5) was ranked No. 5 in the season’s final Kentucky High School Baseball Coaches Association statewide poll. Rucker, a Pleasure Ridge Park third baseman, was named the MVP of the tournament.