By John Lachmann
LEXINGTON, Ky. – For all of Simon Kenton’s positive attributes in this year’s state tournament, scoring runs en masse was not among them.
But the Pioneers demonstrated that they are in fact potent offensively in an 11-1, six-inning win over South Laurel in a state semifinal at Whitaker Bank Park on Friday.
Simon Kenton not only advances to its first-ever state final, which will be played against Louisville St. Xavier at 7 p.m. on Saturday, the Pioneers become the first Northern Kentucky team to play in a championship game since 2006.
“Our bats were just silent for this week basically,” Pioneers coach Troy Roberts said. “Once (South Laurel) made a few errors and we got a little confidence we just kept going and hitting the ball hard – even some of our outs were really hard-hit balls right at them. I know we can hit, there’s no doubt about it, they showed it today.”
Senior right-hander Tristen Marcum had the Cardinals hitters off balance the entire game. Despite throwing in the low 70s, he went the distance, allowed just four hits and one walk.
“Oh my goodness, man, outstanding,” Roberts said. “He gives us a chance to win every time he steps on the mound, and we don’t give him very much run support typically. Today, coming back on short rest, he did it.”
Marcum faced the minimum through two innings, as the lone baserunner he allowed on a walk was caught stealing.
Marcum helped himself at the plate in the bottom of the second. Senior third baseman Tyler Smith was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning, was bunted to second and went to third on a passed ball before a hard grounder through the right side by Marcum opened the scoring.
After pitching around a leadoff single in the third and retiring the first two batters in the fourth, junior Zach Allen hammered a ball to the right center field fence. The relay throw was booted and Allen scored in what was ruled an inside-the-park home run that made it 1-1.
But that tie was short lived. Smith singled to lead off the bottom of the fourth and junior center fielder Price Burge doubled. With the infield in, Marcum hit a shot up the middle that was knocked down with a diving stop, but the throw to first sailed into the seats, scoring two.
Freshman second baseman Trent Kincaid singled to left one out later, scoring Marcum’s courtesy runner from second to make it 4-1 and chasing Allen.
Junior Trey Martin came in and walked the first two hitters he faced, loading the bases. Senior catcher Michael Mundy hit a hot shot to short, but after the 6-4 force, the ensuing throw went into the dugout, plating two more runs.
Junior shortstop Sean Lawrence lined an RBI single to knock in the sixth run of the inning and staking Marcum to a 7-1 lead.
Marcum answered with a shut-down inning, retiring the side in order.
“Tristen – every time that kid’s on the mound you know you’re going to get something out of him,” Smith said. “All year we’ve been giving him one to two runs, and today at the beginning of the game I told him, you throw, we’ll get you runs. We gave him 11 runs to win the game.”
Marcum allowed consecutive two-out singles in the sixth but induced a groundout to third that ended what would be his final inning of the season, since he will not be available to pitch in the final.
“To be honest, I was more comfortable out there because I knew I was up 7-1,” Marcum said. “Getting that 11th run in the last inning made me feel great because I didn’t have to go back out there in the seventh inning. I wanted to, but I didn’t have to because we hit the ball very well.”
In the bottom of that frame, senior left fielder Grant Wassom led off with a base hit and moved to second when the center fielder did not field the ball cleanly. Mundy was hit by a pitch, and Lawrence hit in a 5-unassisted groundout.
Smith doubled into the left center field gap, scoring two and making it 9-1. Burge doubled down the right field line to extend the lead to nine, and sophomore DH Colton Downs smacked one through the left side to score Burge and induce the mercy rule.
“Just hitting today in BP, at school and here in the cage, I could tell we were hitting the ball very well and I knew that we weren’t going to have a problem hitting,” Smith said. “We’ve hit faster pitchers better than slower pitches, and we knew this kid was going to throw hard, so we were ready to hit him.”
Roberts did little waving of runners the first two games of the state tournament, as Simon Kenton went 2-0 despite scoring three runs in 17 innings.
He was asked how sore his waving arm was considering how many runners he had to wave in during this game vs. how few he was able to send in the first two state games.
“I don’t care if I have an arm left after tomorrow,”
Roberts said. “I’ll wave as much as I can – I’m alright with that.”
Beechwood was the last Northern Kentucky team to qualify for the state final, but the Tigers lost in the championship that year. The last area team to win a state title was Covington Catholic, which did so in 2002.
Kenton County teams have only won two baseball state championships – CovCath in 2002 and Holmes in 1963.
S. LAUREL 000-100—1 4 6
S. KENTON 010-604—11 10 1
WP: Marcum (7-3). LP: Allen (3-3). HITTING LEADERS: SK—T. Smith 2-3, 2B, 2 RBI; Burge 2-3, 2 2B; Kincaid 2-3. SL—Allen 2-3, HR. RECORDS: Simon Kenton 25-16, South Laurel 29-9.