State baseball semifinals: Pleasure Ridge Park topples Kentucky’s No. 1 team

Pleasure Ridge Park prides itself on playing fundamental baseball.

The No. 5 Panthers’ 7-6 upset win over No. 1 Trinity on Friday in the state high school baseball tournament semifinals at Kentucky Proud Park exemplified their style to perfection.

Capitalizing on Trinity mistakes, PRP scored four runs to take the lead in the top of the fifth inning and added an insurance run it needed in the top of the sixth as freshman pitcher Joey Dudeck went the distance on the mound.

“They play the small game well. They’ve embraced that and that’s what PRP baseball is about,” said Panthers’ coach Brad Burns, who played for the late Bill Miller, the legendary PRP coach who led the program to 21 region championships and its six state titles and did so largely with a scrappy, “small-ball” approach. “If we can do anything from an X’s and O’s standpoint to make Coach Miller proud, hopefully, that’s what it was. … He would have enjoyed that kind of game.”

Pleasure Ridge Park’s Ravon Lee (18) celebrates scoring a run along with his teammates in the dugout during their state baseball semifinals game against Trinity at Kentucky Proud Park on Friday.
Pleasure Ridge Park’s Ravon Lee (18) celebrates scoring a run along with his teammates in the dugout during their state baseball semifinals game against Trinity at Kentucky Proud Park on Friday.

The win marked PRP’s first win over the Shamrocks (38-5) in five tries since 2015. Trinity had been ranked No. 1 in the coaches poll all season.

“We don’t have the best talent in the state. We’re not stupid. We know that,” Burns said. “But we try to make sure we play as much of a team game as we can, and it worked out today.”

Consecutive bases-loaded walks with two outs in the fifth drawn by PRP’s Asious Kavich and Gevar Harris broke a 2-2 tie. Brayden Bruner, Kaleb Settle and Grayson Roll each got hit by pitches to fill the bags up around a sacrifice bunt and a groundout. Then PRP’s Kobie Howard followed with an RBI infield single to deep short and Hank Burns knocked another in with a single to left for a 6-2 lead.

PRP added a run in the top of the sixth thanks to some daring base-running and a perfect bunt. Logan Strong led off with a single. When Cooper Burkhart dropped a slow bouncing bunt back to the pitcher and beat the throw to first, Strong’s courtesy runner Ravon Lee saw third base unattended and kept running. An errant throw to third to try to get him out sailed wide and allowed Lee to score to put PRP up 7-4.

“We draw walks, we bunt — all the small ball, you know — that’s how we’ve always won going back to the early days of Coach Miller,” PRP senior catcher Hank Burns said. “His presence is still with us.”

Trinity reliever Evan Boeckmann took the loss and was lifted after the first walk in fifth in favor of Colin Sander. Grayson Davis started the game for the Rocks and pitched 2⅓ innings.

Dudeck gave up six runs, four of them earned and struck out three for his 11th win of the season. He gave up a two-run homer to Zach Floyd in the bottom of the fifth and three hits, including a two-run single by Nolan Hosking, in the bottom of the seventh as the Shamrocks rallied. Trinity’s Dane Morrow flew out to left to end the game.

“It got tight. I just had to rely on my team, really,” Dudeck said. “I didn’t do anything too overpowering. … I just got ground balls and a pop fly to end the game. It was amazing.”

Trinity got on the board first with two runs in the bottom of the second inning, highlighted by Ethan Dillon’s RBI triple to right-center. PRP answered in the next half as Shamrocks’ errors helped the Panthers tie the game. Kobie Howard singled and scored on an error two batters later. Then Lee, on base as a courtesy runner for Burns, scored the second run thanks to another Trinity error.

PRP advances to its first state finals since their 2017 state championship. The Panthers will face a No. 3 McCracken County team that beat them 7-5 at home in the first week of the season way back on March 15.

“The job’s not finished yet,” Burns said. “That’s what we’re trying to do is get there and then try to win that game. I mean, that’s what we’ve been telling our guys all along: ‘Let’s try for one more.’”

Pleasure Ridge Park’s Joey Dudeck pitched a complete game for the Panthers against Trinity in the state baseball semifinals at Kentucky Proud Park on Friday.
Pleasure Ridge Park’s Joey Dudeck pitched a complete game for the Panthers against Trinity in the state baseball semifinals at Kentucky Proud Park on Friday.

McCracken rallies to defeat Owensboro Catholic

McCracken County let a four-run lead slip away in the top of the fifth inning, but the Mustangs didn’t flinch and responded immediately with four runs in the bottom half to overtake Owensboro Catholic and ultimately defeat the Aces 9-7 in Friday’s second state baseball semifinals game at Kentucky Proud Park.

With the game tied at 7-7 in the bottom of the fifth, Caleb Ehling stepped to the plate with runners at second and third with two outs and laced a single to center field that put the No. 3 Mustangs back on top by the final margin.

“You’re not going to do good in those situations if you ever hide,” Ehling said. “Just keep your composure and you’re going to produce. … We know what we can do. If we were just to give up, we’re not that type of team, especially this year.”

No. 11 Owensboro Catholic nearly derailed the Mustangs’ rally moments earlier by thwarting a safety squeeze put on by McCracken’s Casey Hawes. Aces pitcher Ben Hyland fielded the bunt cleanly and shoveled the ball out of his glove to catcher Brady Atwell just in time to tag out Weston Miller, who was barreling in from third base with the potential tying run. The bang-bang play resulted in the Mustangs’ second out.

“I thought we got under it, but he (the umpire) called him out,” McCracken coach Zach Hobbs said. “I think it fired our guys up a little bit. … It didn’t change anything. We knew we could score.”

Caden Kern’s RBI double down the left-field line moments later tied the game anyway, and it set up Ehrling’s go-ahead base knock.

“This team just wants it more than any team I’ve ever been a part of or ever seen,” Miller said. “I think we have a killer instinct per se. We really just fight to the end.”

Owensboro Catholic opened the game with a leadoff triple by Houston Flynn, who scored on Jaxson White’s groundout for the first run of the day.

McCracken responded with five runs in the bottom of the first, highlighted by Miller’s two-run double with two outs. Ehling and Kendrick Dunning both singled and scored. Miller and Braden Casebier scored on Aces errors.

Owensboro Catholic’s five-run fifth that staked it to a brief 7-5 lead included RBI singles by Mitchell Sims, Elijah Blair and Flynn, and a two-run single by Barrett Evans.

Alex Calhoun pitched the last 2⅓ innings for the win, allowing just one hit in relief of starter Miller Green. Owensboro Catholic (31-8) used four pitchers including Evans as the starter and Ban Hyland who gave up four runs in relief and took the loss.

McCracken County (34-9) advances to its third state baseball finals since 2019. It finished runner-up to Tates Creek in 2019 and to Trinity in 2021. The Mustangs have dominated the 1st Region with 10 straight tournament appearances since the consolidation of Heath, Lone Oak and Reidland into one school in the 2013-14 school year.