By Mike Fields
Special to WCPO.com
LEXINGTON, Ky. – St. Xavier won its first state baseball title in 33 years, but it had to fend off upstart Simon Kenton in a dramatic championship game to do it.
No. 3 St. X scored three runs in the top of the seventh inning to beat the unranked Pioneers 5-2 in the finals of the Rawlings/KHSAA State Tournament in front of 2,211 fans in Whitaker Bank Ballpark Saturday night.
Hayden Ford’s bases-loaded single drove in Sam Springer and Andrew McCormick to make it 4-2. Miles Lee’s sacrifice fly extended the lead to 5-2.
Simon Kenton senior third baseman Tyler Smith thought pitcher Sean Lawrence was going to snag Ford’s high-bouncing hit. When the ball made it cleanly through the drawn-in infield, Smith said “it was like a stab in the heart.”
Scott Spurlock, St. X’s fourth pitcher of the night, closed out Simon Kenton in the bottom of the seventh as the Tigers won their 30th game of the season and the program’s sixth state title.
St. X Coach Andy Porta has been constantly reminded of the baseball team’s championship drought every time he’s in the St. X gym, where banners tell the tale of each sport’s accomplishments.
“Baseball had five titles, but the last one was 33 years ago, while guys like swimming win every year, and golf, soccer, tennis, cross-country all win a lot, too,” Porta said.
“It’s tough. So to finally bust through and finally win one again is amazing.”
St. X, which beat Union County, Johnson Central and North Bullitt to get to the finals for the first time since 1981, took an early 2-0 lead over Simon Kenton.
Springer led off the game with a single and scored on McCormick’s hit. He tripled to lead off the third and came home on a wild pitch.
Simon Kenton, blanked by Connor Underwood through three innings, tied it in the fifth off reliever Cam Revelette. Travis Bryson, Michael Mundy, Sean Lawrence and Tyler Smith all had singles in the rally.
With the game tied going to the seventh, Smith felt good about the Pioneers’ chances of pulling the upset.
“We had the heart of our lineup coming up, and I thought if we were tied, we were going to win.”
St. X spoiled that scenario in the top of the seventh.
Simon Kenton couldn’t muster a rally in its final at-bat, but that didn’t diminish the Pioneers’ best baseball showing in school history.
“We played hard and played well,” Coach Troy Roberts said. “They just made a few more plays than we did.”
Roberts praised Lawrence’s effort on the mound. The junior righthander went the distance, throwing 114 pitches. He gave up eight hits, struck out seven and walked two.
“Sean threw more than I thought he could,” Roberts said. “He’s a competitor. He really goes after it.”
Porta was impressed by Lawrence: “He threw a gazillion pitches, but he kept on battling us."
Tristen Marcum, who threw complete games to beat Southwestern in the first round and South Laurel in the semifinals, made the all-tournament team for Simon Kenton, along with senior catcher Michael Mundy and Smith.
“All of our guys played their hearts out,” Roberts said. “They’re great kids who played great baseball. I’m as proud of them as I would be of my own kids.”
Porta also saluted Simon Kenton.
“You gotta give them a lot of credit. They were one game over .500 when the post-season started, but they made it all the way to the finals and battled and battled.
“They gave us all we could handle, and more.”
ST. XAVIER 101-000-3—5 8 1
S. KENTON 000-020-0—2 8 3
WP: Finerty (2-0). LP: Lawrence (8-2); SV: Spurlock (3). HITTING LEADERS: SX—Springer 2-4, 3B; McCormick 2-3, 2B; Ford 2 RBI. SK—Mundy 2-4. RECORDS: St. Xavier 30-10, Simon Kenton 25-17.