Eleven solid innings May 16 brought Marion High School within three outs of a first-ever regional championship and a ticket to the Class 3A state baseball tournament. One inning later, the Warriors found themselves on the outside looking in, as Sacred Heart scored 3 runs in the top of the seventh inning to clinch a 3-0 win.
Marion hitters were on fire in the semifinal, smashing 14 hits in a 10-0, 5-inning rout of Moundridge.
“That’s the best we’ve swung the bats all year in a game together — we couldn’t have drawn it up any better,” Marion head coach Roger Schroeder said following the team’s third win this season against the Railers.
After the Warriors managed only two hits against Sacred Heart, Schroeder had a different take.
“We put together some good swings, but we just couldn’t string anything together,” Schroder said. “Their pitcher did an excellent job of keeping us off balance.”
Grif Case (4-1) took the mound for the start of the championship tilt against Sacred Heart, and with the help of some brilliant defensive plays behind him, held the Knights scoreless through six innings.
Austin Pederson was the only one in the stadium who thought he had a shot at catching a Knight rocket to right center field in the fourth inning, but the speedy junior fielder dived from a dead run to snatch the ball just before it hit the ground.
“If he misses it, it goes for a home run. It changed the complexion of the game, it kept us in the game,” Schroeder said.
The Warriors were in peril in the top of the fifth inning when Sacred Heart loaded the bases with two out. Dalton Dooley took two Case strikes and then ripped a grounder up the middle. Marion shortstop Dylan Seacat lunged to his left, snagged the ball, and beat a Knight runner to second base for the force out to end the inning.
Case worked around a two-out walk and steal in the top of the sixth by getting Matt Kuffler to pop the ball up in the infield, with Taylor Heidebrecht charging in to record the putout.
Schroeder didn’t hesitate sending Case back to the mound in the seventh inning, even though Sacred Heart mounted scoring threats the previous two innings.
“We’re going to stick with our best guy. He wants to be out there, he wants the ball in his hands,” Schroder said. “He was a little erratic at times, but that’s the guy we want to have the ball in his hands. That’s just the way it is.”
Case issued a walk to the first Knight batter, Damon Gormley, who then advanced to second on a wild pitch. But when Clayton Wetter tried to advance the runner with a bunt, Heidebrecht charged in from first, scooped up the ball and fired to Ethan Hett at third, who applied the tag to Gormley.
The Knights had runners at first and second bases after Daniel O’Brien singled to right. Kyle Stover worked the count to 2-2 and then drove a single through the left side of the infield, scoring Wetter for the go-ahead run.
The Warriors intentionally loaded the bases, and Blake Jones made them pay when he stroked a hard single to right, scoring two more runs for a 3-0 Sacred Heart lead.
Marion got out of the inning with an unusual double rundown, tagging out a runner between third base and home, and then catching a second runner between second and third bases.
“That was kind of a fluke. We made a good play to stop him there off third, they tried to wheel a guy around and got a mix up there, and it got us out of the inning,” Schroeder said.
The Warriors had one final chance to make up the deficit, but Pederson, Williams, and Case went down in order to end the game.
“We ran into a buzz saw. They were able to strike first, strike last, strike only,” Schroeder said. “I’m disappointed. These kids deserved to go just as much as that group.”
The runner-up finish was Marion’s best ever in regional play, and Schroeder said he’ll build on the experience for next year.
“We don’t want to forget the feeling. It’s a bad feeling to have, but it’s something to build on,” Schroeder said. “Each year we’ve advanced a round further. We’re going to regroup and get back at it the end of February next year.”
“This was probably our most complete game we played all year,” Schroeder said.
Hett was a puzzle Moundridge batters couldn’t solve, as they mustered only 1 hit against the Marion hurler, who chalked up 3 strikeouts against just 2 walks.
“He settled in nicely — it was outstanding,” Schroeder said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better outing from him.”
Marion scored 2 runs in the second inning, tallied 4 runs in the fourth, and closed out the game with a 4-run fifth inning that triggered the 10-run rule.
David Helmer was perfect at the plate, going 3-for-3 with 2 RBIs and 2 runs scored. Hett helped his own cause with 2 RBIs on 2-for-3 hitting. Heidebrecht went 2-for-4 with 2 RBIs.
“This was probably our most complete game we played all year,” Schroder said. “We pitched well, played good defense and had the bats going all at the same time.”
The Warriors ended the season with a record of 16-6.