PRP reigns again as king of Kentucky baseball under Bill Miller

June 17, 2017 FieldsColumn

BY MIKE FIELDS

Thirty-five years ago Bill Miller coached Pleasure Ridge Park to a runner-up finish in the state baseball tournament. The Panthers lost to unbeaten Madison Central in the finals.

In 1985 PRP made it back to the title game but lost to Owensboro Catholic.

In 1993 the Panthers were one win away from a state championship again before falling to Harrison County.

That may have been three strikes against PRP, but Miller never lost faith that his program would someday break through and hit it big. In fact, he remembers telling people, “Once we win one, we’ll win a bunch.”

Miller’s not only a great coach, he’s a great prophet.

PRP won three consecutive state championships starting in 1994; the Panthers took home the big trophy again in 2008 and 2013; and on Saturday they claimed yet another state title by beating Simon Kenton 6-5 at Whitaker Bank Ballpark in Lexington.

Only St. Xavier, which has seven championships, has more than PRP. The Panthers join Manual and Owensboro as the only schools with six titles.

Bill Miller, shown with his players after Saturday’s finals, has guided PRP to 20 region titles, 16 finals fours, 10 title games and 6 championships. (PHOTO BY KEN WEAVER)

Miller, in his 38th year as PRP’s baseball boss, is the winningest coach in state history. His teams have piled up 1,132 victories, 20 region titles and 16 final four appearances.

But Miller, who has been battling cancer the last couple years, shuns the spotlight. “Everybody wants to turn it around and make it about me,” he said. “But it ain’t about me. It’s all about the kids, and I’m so happy for them.”

Talk to his assistant coaches and players, however, and they’ll tell you that PRP’s program was built on the broad shoulders of Bill Miller.

“Just look at him,” Scott Downs said. “He takes zero credit for any of this stuff. But without him there isn’t PRP baseball.”

Downs, who was a star pitcher on PRP’s 1994 title team and went on to play 14 years in the majors, said this pack of Panthers reflected their coach’s personality.

“It’s about grit,” Downs said. “These kids have given everything they have, and that’s what it’s about — playing a game you love and leaving everything you’ve got out on the field. Bill Miller is the inspiration for that.”

Long-time PRP assistant Sherm Blaszczyk got to share this title with his son Reed.

PRP baseball is a family, figuratively and, in the case of long-time assistant Sherm Blaszczyk, literally.

Blaszczyk has been with Miller since 1990, so he’s been part of all six state titles. He admits the first one in 1994 was “most special,” but this latest one will always occupy a perfect place in his heart because his son Reed started in left field for the Panthers.

“It’s really special to get to do this with your son,” Blaszczyk said. “It hasn’t been easy being a coach with your son on the team. But I’m very proud of him.”

When Reed got to high school, his dad warned him that playing at PRP wasn’t an easy gig. “He told me it was going to be tough sometimes, that you were going to get knocked down. But it was about keeping moving forward after you got knocked down.”

Winning a state title makes all the tough times worthwhile. “It’s unbelievable,” Reed said. “And to be the first (PRP) team with 40 wins is just unreal.”

And what’s it like playing for Bill Miller?

“He’s an idol,” Reed said. “He’s family. He’s family.”

The bad news for the rest of the state is that this was a remarkably young PRP team. The Panthers used 14 players in Saturday’s championship game — and not one of them was a senior.

Among the returnees in 2018 will be third baseman and state tournament MVP Nick Rucker, along with star pitcher Garrett Schmeltz and second baseman Noah McDonald, who also made the all-tournament team.

And Bill Miller, who graduated from PRP 50 years ago, expects to be back, too, taking the bull by the horns, but taking no credit for the remarkable program he has built.

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