Charlie Kuehn works in marketing and sales for Ram Jack.
The Patrick Henry baseball coach has done much to improve the foundation of the Patriots’ program.
Before Thursday night’s River Ridge District semifinal at Kiwanis Field, neither Kuehn nor his players could remember the last time PH made a district championship.
They know the answer now as the Patriots overcame a three-run deficit to score a 7-6 victory over reigning VHSL Class 4 state champion Salem.
Patrick Henry will face either Christiansburg or Cave Spring in Friday’s 6 p.m. final at Kiwanis. The game was not over at press time.
“It’s been a long time,” Kuehn said of PH’s last appearance in a district championship game.
PH (16-5) rode the arm and bat of senior Carter Plunkett to its first win over the Spartans in three tries.
Plunkett allowed six hits in six-plus innings on the mound and cracked a game-tying two-run home run in the third after PH had fallen behind 3-0.
Reliever Joey Webb stranded the potential tying and winning runs on base in the seventh, inducing DH Kodi Deboer to pop out to Plunkett at shortstop to end the game.
Plunkett finished 3 for 4 at the plate with two runs scored.
It was his day.
“It was our day,” Plunkett said. “We’d lost two tough ones to them this year. We stayed focused. We had confidence. We knew we could do it. We had a good attitude coming into it.”
Third baseman John Stockstill had PH’s only other hits, including a two-run double in the fifth that put the Patriots up 5-3 and chased Salem starter Caleb Lingenfelter.
The Spartans right-hander had a tough outing, walking six men in four-plus innings. Three Salem pitchers combined to walk 10 men overall.
“The pitcher that was going to pitch, he didn’t show up for class,” Salem coach Wes McMillian said. “That’s why I went through all my pitchers trying to get somebody to finish the game.”
Salem (16-4) won the 2018 Class 4 title with timely hitting and defense. The Spartans had neither Thursday with four errors and two men picked off base.
Matt Wright’s two-run double in the first inning was Salem’s biggest hit of the day.
With the game tied at 3 in the fourth, Plunkett struck out Salem leadoff man on a curveball with two men on base.
“It was a 3-2 pitch,” said Plunkett, who is headed to Roanoke College in the fall. “This year my curveball’s been working pretty good. I trusted it.”
PH’s last winning season came in 2015 when the Patriots had eight seniors. This year, they have 10.
PH will host William Fleming in the Region 5D tournament next Wednesday.
“The guys just hit the ball, and it seems like it’s at good times,” Kuehn said. “I’ve been really proud of them this year, the way they compete. They don’t quit.”