INDEPENDENCE, Ky. -- The Simon Kenton baseball team has plenty reasons to smile this week.
All the goodwill surrounds the fact the Pioneers (26-15) play Marion County (28-6) in a state semifinal at 11 a.m. Friday in Lexington.
But in some ways the practices and team meals leading up to the game are just as special.
Simon Kenton, which is making its second state baseball tournament appearance and first since it was a state runner-up in 2014, is soaking in the moment of being the only area high school team competing this late in June.
The Pioneers, winners of nine consecutive games, are taking advantage of area restaurants supplying food and camaraderie for the days leading up to Friday morning.
"Having fun - that's the biggest thing you have to do when you're at state and we are," senior Trent Kincaid said. "We want to thank everyone for the support we have gotten."
The team ate at Knuck-N-Futz in Taylor Mill Tuesday night after a morning practice. The players ate at Buffalo Wild Wings last week and were scheduled to eat at LaRosa’s Wednesday night.
“Obviously they’re having a lot of fun,” Simon Kenton coach Troy Roberts said. “They’re enjoying everything.”
Roberts has kept the right perspective with his players this week.
They’ve mixed up the practice times. They’ve reflected on the journey. The community support has also played a significant role.
“Our school and community are very excited for our baseball team,” Simon Kenton Athletic Director Jeff Marksberry said. “It is exciting to watch this team chase their dream.”
Roberts advised his players not to be nervous or dwell on the fact that the Pioneers are one of only four teams remaining in the state.
“They’re loving the fact that we’re still playing,” Roberts said. “I keep preaching to them, ‘you got to enjoy the moment. You are going to savor this the rest of your life.'”
Simon Kenton isn't changing its routine either. The Pioneers will take batting practice at 7:20 a.m. Friday on the school’s football field before departing on a bus for Whitaker Bank Ballpark.
Roberts said the coaches considered staying the night Thursday but opted not to change the schedule.
“The coaches are superstitious just like myself,” Roberts said.
The winner of Simon Kenton and Marion County plays either McCracken County or Pleasure Ridge Park in the state final at 1 p.m. Saturday in Lexington.
But the Pioneers have been locked in on preparing for Marion County this week.
Roberts described Marion County as similar to a typical Northern Kentucky team who will sacrifice runners over and do some hit-and-run within a small-ball concept. That's a similar style to Simon Kenton.
Marion County has an ace pitcher in senior Andrew Spalding, who is signed with Asbury College. He can hit 84 or 85 miles per hour on his fastball and has an effective curve.
Roberts feels confident Spalding will be the starting pitcher Friday morning.
“We’ve got our pitching machine cranked up a little bit,” Roberts said.
Offensively, the Pioneers received excellent production in a 3-2 win over Muhlenberg County in the state quarterfinal.
Junior Bailey Martin, the winning pitcher in the state quarterfinal, was 3-for-3 with an RBI while junior Zane Fuqua was 2-for-2 with an RBI. Senior Joey Ponder and junior Kyle Taylor had doubles in that game.
Simon Kenton will either start senior Mitchell Kreidenweis or Martin on Friday morning. Both pitchers are very capable so the Pioneers feel confident in whomever starts.
The batting lineup is also in a unique position of receiving consistent contributions. It's a total team effort. That's what makes Simon Kenton a potent contender this weekend.
“They’re loving every minute of it right now,” Roberts said.