Kevin Colley, Staff Writer
FRANKLIN FURNACE — Playing your dream sport at the collegiate level is always a blessing.
But doing so alongside a friend and a fellow high school teammate simply puts the icing on top of the cake.
As senior leaders, Green’s Tanner Kimbler and Bryce Ponn have each been major pieces to the school’s turnaround in basketball and football, respectively.
They’ve also played a huge part in sustaining, and building on, the success that the baseball program — in addition to cross country — has provided.
Now, the duo will be hoping to turn the culture around inside Shawnee State University’s baseball program, while playing the sport they love.
Kimbler and Ponn, who are star pitchers and infielders for the Bobcats, inked with the Bears this past Friday by holding a joint signing ceremony. For both, the opportunity is a realization of a dream. But pursuing that dream together, both believe, will only help each other grow while paving the way for a new opportunity for the community.
“It’s great,” Kimbler said. “I’ve worked really hard my entire life leading up to this, and now that I’ve made my decision, it’s certainly a relief. I can’t wait to get started.”
Ponn echoed those thoughts.
“Playing with a teammate is what makes it special,” Ponn said. “Usually, when you go to college, you leave your high school friends behind. I’ve always wanted to play college baseball. So to do that alone is special enough, but to sign alongside a teammate is even more special. I’m really excited for the opportunity.”
From the outset, Kimbler’s been an outstanding contributor in multiple sports. In addition to being an SOC I honoree in three different sports [cross country, basketball and baseball], he’s led the Bobcats to conference championships in the former and latter, including back-to-back titles in the baseball realm. In the middle of the trio, Kimbler has helped guide Green to back-to-back over .500 seasons, including a spirited run to a Division IV district final in 2018, which was the school’s first since 1999.
“Coming from my freshman and sophomore year, where we had five wins a year or something like that, to my junior and senior year, where we’re going to the district finals in 2017-18 and the sectional finals the following season, is big,” Kimbler said. “It makes a big difference in the community. Also, it feels good to show that we’re always working. We’re all working for something better in life, and it’s showing now. The support that I’ve had the entire way means a great deal.”
As for Ponn, who pitches and plays third base alongside Kimbler at shortstop, the senior has made significant strides in his game.
After transferring in from Oak Hill during his sophomore year, Ponn has continued to progress. When he was a sophomore, he started at third base and hit primarily in the five to six hole all season. He then became the team’s cleanup hitter and helped replace the graduating exploits of Trevor Carver by becoming a co-ace of the staff alongside Kimbler and Trevor’s younger brother, Tayte.
Ponn was a first-team all-SOC I honoree last season, then contributed to a football team that went 8-3 this past fall. That unit clinched its first playoff berth in 28 years.
“It feels great,” Ponn said. “When you go from 1-8 and not being able to play the last game of the season to going 8-3 and making the playoffs for the first time in 28 years, it’s magical. Our basketball team made it to the Convo last year for the first time since 2005. There’s a different intensity here now. It feels amazing. Hopefully, that will help bring more success for Green going forward and will inspire student-athletes in the future to work for the accolades. There’s a lot of great people here, from the faculty to the administration and the kids themselves.”
Both players have also been aided by supportive figures in their lives who encouraged them to make the best decisions for themselves — which arguably made the process of choosing a college, and a baseball destination, an easier one as it unfolded.
“I was told to pursue what I wanted to do,” Kimbler said. “They said, ‘If you want to play baseball, go with it, but if you don’t, just go with school.’ In the end, I want to do both. I love playing baseball and didn’t want to be done with it, but at the same time, my education comes first. I want to utilize both and grow into a better teammate, player, and person.”
Ponn’s advice was similar.
“Everybody’s told me to just keep doing what you love,” Ponn said. “Don’t let anybody do it for you. Do it how you want to do it. Be coachable. That’s one of the biggest things. They’ve helped a lot. Ever since I can remember, I was out there with a wiffleball bat, and my grandma was always throwing to me. It’s exciting.”
At Shawnee State, Kimbler will get to play alongside a familiar figure in fellow summer ball teammate, and former Lloyd (Ky.) Greenup County standout Kyle Gammon. Gammon, who is redshirting this season, will be a redshirt freshman when Kimbler arrives in 2020.
“We’ve been playing together since we were 11, 12 years old,” Kimbler said. “He was always a grade above me but we played on the same travel team growing up, so we’ve always been around each other.”
With Gammon, Kimbler will look to recreate some of the same magic that Post 23 had during its widely successful Gene Bennett Baseball Classic run — one where Kimbler, Gammon, and the blue bats advanced all the way to the GBBC Tournament Championship before falling to the national powerhouse Great Lakes Canadians.
It’s successes like those, under East head coach and Post 23 head coach Matt Miller — and the back-to-back SOC I Championships under Green head coach Dan McDavid — that makes the standout blessed to have had the coaches he’s had in his corner.
“Miller coached me over summer ball,” Kimbler said. “He’s helped me out by taking hundreds of ground balls, which means a lot to me. As for McDavid, he’s a character. You never know what you’re going to get from him. We’re blessed to have him and the Meenachs [Chris and Jayson] on the staff.”
Now that their college decisions are final, Kimbler and Ponn’s main focus is the spring and putting Green on the map statewide.
Over the last two seasons, the Bobcats have fallen short in the district semifinals — something that Kimbler and Ponn are determined to not have happen again this season.
“That’s always been the biggest picture,” Ponn said. “Ever since I moved here, McDavid said that he’s always seen a Final Four team in us, at least. I see it, too. We just get to the district semifinals, and a couple of little mistakes get to us and add up to bigger mistakes. However, we still have the team to do it. We’ve always had the team to do it. We just have to believe in ourselves and stay confident. It’s a completely different intensity with him. His coaching style keeps kids in the game. He keeps us motivated. There’s a fire under him that makes kids the way that they are, not only in the game of baseball but outside of it as well.”
Kimbler, Ponn and the Bobcats begin their season on March 25, traveling to Rock Hill. Their first home date is slated for March 28 against South Webster.
“The team is so close,” Kimbler said. “It’s a great feeling. We go out in practice and work every day. We work really hard. We’d love to win the SOC I for a third straight season and that’s our primary goal right now. Then going forward, we want to advance to districts and even regionals.”