By John Lachmann
LEXINGTON, Ky. – After watching 19 straight scoreless half-innings, Troy Roberts did not hesitate when he finally had a chance to wave a runner home.
Tyler Smith blooped a single into left center field on a hit and run, and Grant Wassom scored the lone run all the way from first base in Simon Kenton’s 1-0 win over Hazard in a state quarterfinal at Whitaker Bank Park.
With two outs, Wassom, who was hit by a pitch, took off on the 3-2 pitch and had his trek home facilitated by a bobble in the outfield.
But the senior left fielder never stopped running and Roberts never stopped waving him.
“The way we were hitting, I didn’t want to leave it in the hands of any of the hitters,” Roberts said. “Too many infield pop-ups, we were slow in our swing it seemed like…but when I saw the throw low, that’s when I wanted to send him. He was off with the pitch so he had a great jump anyway. And Grant’s fast – he’s one of our quicker guys – so I knew he’d have a shot to be safe.”
Said Wassom: “I don’t think Coach would’ve given me the stop sign – he was waving me as soon as the ball hit the bat. I was sprinting all the way to second, gave (Roberts) a peak. He was waving – I wasn’t going to stop.”
It ended up being the third-longest game in state tournament history to remain scoreless and the second-longest 1-0 finish at state. No state tournament game had gone scoreless into the 10th inning in 50 years.
Fort Knox beat Prestonsburg, 1-0 in 14 innings in 1946, and Salem blanked Bardstown St. Joseph, 2-0 in 11 innings in 1954.
“I thought we were going to play until tomorrow – that’s what it felt like,” Roberts said.
The game originally started on Wednesday night but was suspended because of lightning with two outs in the bottom of the seventh and no one on. Senior catcher Michael Mundy grounded out when the game resumed, forcing extra innings.
Junior right-hander Sean Lawrence, who came in to pitch the seventh on Wednesday, gave up a leadoff single in the eighth but retired the next six he faced.
The Pioneers got a hit in the eighth and ninth innings – and senior right fielder Travis Bryson stole second to give Simon Kenton a chance to win it with a single – but they could not plate the decisive run in either of those frames.
Lawrence, who threw 250 pitches in a three-day span last week, was lifted after the ninth because of his heavy workload in the regional tournament and to leave the possibility of his return for the state semifinal.
“Sean threw a lot of pitches last week and he wasn’t going to throw more than 30 today,” Roberts said. “He probably had two innings in him and that was it.”
Enter junior right-hander Garrett Ainsworth, who had tossed 17 innings all season. Ainsworth walked a batter with one out but induced three pop-ups in the top of the 10th.
The three Pioneers pitchers combined to allow just five hits and four walks. Junior right-hander Robert Smith worked six innings on Wednesday and faced three batters over the minimum.
“They filled up the strike zone all night last night and today,” Roberts said. “When they’re throwing strikes, they’re good. I was a little worried about bringing Garrett in because he hadn’t thrown in a while, but the kid did great.”
Mundy and Lawrence both flew out to start the bottom of the 10th. But Roberts said he was confident his team would make something happen in that stanza.
“We had speed coming up, and if we had someone that got on that didn’t have speed we were going to run for them,” Roberts said.
Wassom was hit by a pitch and had visions of stealing second but he retreated after getting bad jumps and Tyler Smith worked a full count.
“He got in a hitter’s count, and I knew the pitcher was going to have to come in with fastballs,” Wassom said. “I didn’t want to take the bat away from him, give the catcher a good chance with an outside fastball to throw (me) out.”
Smith’s single, the senior third baseman’s third consecutive hit as he finished with three of the Pioneers’ total safeties, hung up in left center field before dropping, and Wassom kept his head down and never saw where the ball was hit.
“He’s a gamer, he’s a competitor,” Roberts said. “If he would’ve run through my stop sign, I don’t think I would’ve blamed him if I had a stop sign up.”
After the bobble, the relay throw to the shortstop was low and his rushed throw never had a chance.
Simon Kenton left 11 men on base the first nine innings and finished the game 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position.
It was yet another game of endurance for the Pioneers, who has their fourth postseason game affected by weather. Simon Kenton’s district final and regional semifinal were both suspended and had to be finished the next day, and the Pioneers’ regional final was held up for over an hour because of two separate lightning delays.
“We expect it now,” Roberts said. “That’s what I told them last night when we did get the lightning, I teased them, I said we’ll be OK, we’ve never been in this situation
“Mother nature’s against us I think.”
The Pioneers will play Thursday afternoon’s South Laurel-South Warren winner at 6 p.m. on Thursday as they try to advance to their first ever state championship game.
HAZARD 000-000-000-0—0 5 2
S.KENTON 000-000-000-1—1 7 1
WP: Ainsworth (2-0). LP: Cumbow (4-3). HITTING LEADERS: H—Ratliff 2-4. SK—Mundy 2B; Smith 3-5. RECORDS: Simon Kenton 24-16, Hazard 27-14.