Troy Roberts isn’t afraid to say it about his Simon Kenton baseball program.
“We feel like we’re the best program in the school,” Roberts was saying after his Pioneers advanced to the Eighth Region semifinals with a nifty 3-1 win over visiting Henry County in Independence.
“I can say that,” Roberts said with a grin, “I’m the AD.”
That’s the way he wants all his programs to think. And with the outfield walls proudly proclaiming in letters four-feet-high “STATE RUNNERUP 2014” in left-center field and “STATE RUNNERUP 2017” in right-center, it’s hard to argue with that.
“It’s an awesome place to watch a baseball game,” Roberts said, looking around at the hundreds of fans still ringing this natural bowl where they play baseball, watching from the hillsides and parking lots, in their cars and as they picnicked in front of them.
“Everybody here either went here or goes here,” senior shortstop Hunter Parks said of a neighborhood family feeling that brings back many of the former players who saw him make two big plays with his glove to preserve the win. The second one came in the seventh inning after Henry County opened with a base hit bringing the tying run to the plate with no outs.
And then on a sharp shot past pitcher Ethan Breadon up the middle, Parks slid easily in front of it, took his time, heard second baseman say to take it himself and so he did, stepping on second and firing to first – 6 to 3 – just like that. Two outs. No one on. One more out and the game was over.
That was the difference. Henry County couldn’t make those plays, giving up two runs in the first inning on just one Simon Kenton hit but with three Henry County errors. The first run came in on a swinging third strike on a pitch that hit the dirt with two on, two out as the catcher rolled the ball back to the mound while the alert Simon Kenton batter, Gavin Riley, took off for first. By the time Henry County scrambled to get the rolling ball over to first, it was too late and a wild throw scored the first run.
Of his teammates’ slick fielding, lanky senior pitcher Breadon, who threw a complete game while allowing just four hits to improve to 5-1 on the season, said “We’re just playing for Simon Kenton baseball.”
Asked what he could say about Breadon’s effort, Roberts responded: “What can’t I say . . . he’s better than what he did here, he didn’t have his best stuff . . . “ but he just battled, just hung in there. Oh, and let his fielders make plays behind him until he made one himself.
“Four great defensive plays,” Roberts said. First baseman Peyton Fernbach got it started with a running, flailing, cap-knocking-off blind grab as he headed into short right field to rob Henry County of a hit in the second, Parks left the ground and took off toward deep short and somehow came up with a soft line drive before it got to the outfield in the fourth.
Apparently inspired by his infield mates, Breadon made a near blind stab of a liner heading past him on the way to center field in the sixth and for a third time, a Henry County hit . . . wasn’t.
“I used every inch, every centimeter,” Breadon said, mimicking his glove’s reach at the crack of the bat. “Once I see my fielders making plays, . . . “ Even if he didn’t exactly see where the ball was or think he could get to it.
“We preach to these guys about mental toughness,” Roberts says of their place in the far away Eighth Region a long hike from Northern Kentucky and getting on buses for the long rides as they will Friday to head to the University of Louisville to face Oldham County, a 6-4 winner over Woodford County, on Friday. Win that one and the Pioneers will be able to come back with Breadon in Sunday’s championship game.
That’s the good news about playing in a far-flung region with a spread-out tournament.
And, Roberts said, “That’s the plan.”