By John Lachmann
LEXINGTON, Ky. – It took Tristen Marcum exactly half the number of pitches to win the state opener as it did his teammate in the regional final.
The Simon Kenton senior right-hander needed just 81 pitches to shut down Southwestern, 2-1 in the Pioneers’ first-ever state tournament game at Whitaker Bank Park on Monday.
“I felt great,” Marcum said. “I came out and threw strikes, let my defense work. Obviously we did well, only giving up only one run, and we got the two we needed, came out big.”
Marcum, a soft-tosser who baffled hitters with his off-speed pitches, allowed just five hits, did not walk a batter and fanned three for the Pioneers, who have allowed just six runs in six games this postseason.
“If you’re watching him, if you’re in the dugout or in the stands, you’re just waiting, you’re thinking, ‘we’re going to get to this guy’,” Roberts said. “But he throws a cutter that runs away from the right-hand hitter and hitters don’t like it. They don’t hit it hard very often.”
The fast-paced game had to be a relief for a Simon Kenton team that saw its starter, junior Sean Lawrence, throw 162 pitches in the Pioneers’ regional final, a nine-inning championship that was twice suspended because of lightning.
The Warriors threatened in the top of the first inning with a two-out triple by sophomore Trevor Howard, but Marcum induced a fly out to right field.
Marcum mowed Southwestern in order in the top of the second and Simon Kenton went to work with its bats.
After back-to-back singles by seniors left fielder Grant Wassom and third baseman Tyler Smith led off the frame, and a sacrifice advanced the runners to second and third, sophomore designated hitter Colton Downs smacked a two-run single up the middle.
“Colton didn’t play one varsity game for us in the regular season,” Roberts said. “He came up at the end of the year, all of the coaching staff was really impressed with his batting practice so we put him in there in districts, and by God, he’s been hitting for us.”
The Pioneers threatened more damage as freshman shortstop Trent Kincaid singled, both runners were sacrificed over and junior center fielder Price Burge walked to load the bases, but the inning ended on a strikeout looking.
In the top of the third, Marcum retired the first two hitters, but Southwestern freshman Hunter Cromer single, and the Warriors cut the lead in half on a triple to the left center field fence by junior shortstop Jacob Burchett.
That was the last baserunner for Southwestern until the sixth inning. Marcum got out of the inning with another fly ball to right, and the Warriors went 1-2-3 in the fourth and fifth innings.
In the top of the sixth, Marcum induced a pop-up to first and a fly out to right. It appeared Marcum had retired Southwestern in order for the third straight inning, but a ground ball was misplayed for an error.
The following batter, sophomore Lucas Turpin, hit a bouncer over the third baseman’s head and into left field.
At that point, Roberts came out to talk to his pitcher.
“I tried telling him it’s a good thing,” Roberts said. “If we get this out, we’re set up with the bottom of the order (and) they haven’t been successful against him. Let’s make it a blessing, let’s try to make it a positive. I was trying to get him to think, it’s OK – we made an error and then they get that high-hopper over the third baseman’s head so he’d relax and get that last out.”
The chat worked, as Marcum induced his sixth fly out to right field of the game.
The Warriors, who averaged seven runs a game entering state and had scored at least six in each postseason contest, threatened again in the seventh. Junior catcher Chris Lynch led off with a single and was bunted to second.
But senior Wyatt Burton hit a line drive right at Smith at third base. The runner on second was almost halfway to third, but the play happened so quickly that no Pioneer near second base.
Smith hit second baseman Sean Lawrence in stride and Lawrence touched the bag just ahead of the runner to complete the double play, ending the game.
“Tying run on second with one out, what else can you ask for?” Roberts said. “The kid (on second) didn’t do anything wrong because it was a good play by…Tyler, and I’ll take it all day long.”
Downs, the eighth-place hitter, finished with two hits and both RBI to lead a Pioneers’ lineup that saw five of its seven safeties come from hitters 5-through-9 in the order.
The Pioneers will face Hazard at 6 p.m. on Wednesday in a state quarterfinal.
SOUTHWESTERN 001-000-0—1 5 2
SIMON KENTON 020-000-X—2 7 1
WP: Marcum (7-3). LP: Boils (7-3). HITTING LEADERS: SK—Smith 2-3; Downs 2-2, 2 RBI. SW—Burchett 3B; Howard 3B. RECORDS: Simon Kenton 23-16, Southwestern 27-13.