INDEPENDENCE, Ky. -- For much of the high school baseball season, the Simon Kenton Pioneers struggled to keep their record above .500 and their coaches wondered where they were -- literally and figuratively.
A 3-0 start to the season gave way to back-to-back losses. There was a four-game losing streak in early April. Then there was a three-game losing streak in mid-April.
“Nobody was hitting and the pitching was up and down,” senior shortstop Trent Kincaid said. “People started doubting us and it all just got into our head.”
They weren’t having fun.
The Pioneers sat at just 17-15 with two regular-season games to play on May 17 when something special started to happen. The Pioneers beat Beechwood 9-4 that day on the road. Then they beat Dixie Heights 10-1 the next day at Dixie to close out the regular season.
Five postseason wins later, Simon Kenton has ridden a seven-game winning streak into the Kentucky High School Athletic Association State Baseball Tournament for the second time in school history and the Pioneers are four wins from their first state baseball title.
Simon Kenton (24-15) will play George Rogers Clark (23-9) at 8:30 p.m Thursday at Whitaker Bank Ballpark in Lexington in the first round.
“All year long as a coaching staff, we’d been asking, ‘Where are you guys? Why aren’t we showing up every day?’” Simon Kenton coach Troy Roberts said. “We had a stretch where I was just waiting for us to figure it out and they did. They figured it out. They’re clicking at the right time and they’re really peaking at the right time.”
Simon Kenton allowed only three runs in two wins at the 32nd District Tournament, beating Williamstown 10-1 and Walton-Verona 11-1. Then they beat Oldham County, Collins and Anderson County to win the 8th Region for the first time since 2014.
“We just found it going into the playoffs and we’re on a run right now,” Kincaid said.
The Pioneers are hot at the best time of year to be hot.
“This is the best baseball we’ve played all year,” Roberts said. “It started at the end of the regular season. It just started clicking for them.”
George Rogers Clark has been a bit more consistent this season and the Cardinals are riding a six-game winning streak into the state tournament.
“From what I hear, they’re a really scrappy group,” Roberts said. “They’re going to play small ball. They’re going to bunt on us and they’re going to hit and run. They will steal. They try to manufacture some runs.”
That doesn’t change anything for the Pioneers. Simon Kenton must maintain a high level of play in the areas they’ve excelled in the past seven games -- starting pitching and defense.
“If we get those two things, we’re going to win,” Roberts said. “I really believe that. That’s just the way we’ve been going. We’ve been getting that good starting pitching.”
George Rogers Clark will likely have to deal with Simon Kenton senior ace Mitchell Kreidenweis, a player Roberts called the prototypical pitcher who “works his butt off in drills and in his side work” and is the goofiest guy on the team when he’s not working.
He’ll be all business Thursday.
“We have to come out ready to go,” Kreidenweis said. “Everybody has to play mistake-free and I think everybody on our team knows that. We’re not just happy to be there. We’ll come focused and we know what we have to do to win."
Kincaid, a four-year starter in baseball and a three-year starter in football with the school record for interceptions, leads that talented defense at shortstop and is a standout on offense as well with a .341 average and team-best 40 runs.
“He’s just a great athlete,” Roberts said of Kincaid. “He can hit basically everywhere in our lineup, but we have him hitting second because he can do anything. He can hit and run for us, he can lay down a bunt for a hit or he can sacrifice-bunt. And he can swing away. He’s a great guy to have in the No. 2 hole."
Simon Kenton would play Muhlenberg County or Rowan County at 11 a.m. Saturday at Whitaker Bank Ballpark in the state quarterfinals with a win Thursday night. The state semifinals will be June 16 with the state final scheduled for 1 p.m. June 17.
The Pioneers think they can be there.
“Come out with the same intensity and energy that we’ve had this postseason,” Kincaid said.
“And have fun.”