Panthers foil Warriors’ bid for 3A title
Wichita Independent blanks Marion for 3A title
Take a trip back to March, to when the Marion Warriors baseball team was preparing for the upcoming season.
During that time, the number 72.4 was posted, signaling the approximate distance from the Marion High School parking lot to the site of Class 3A’s state baseball tournament at Kansas State University’s Tointon Baseball Complex.
Haunted by past shortcomings of only making it there, the Warriors set a goal before the season started to finally get over the first round hurdle that tripped them up before.
The Warriors did more than that Thursday and Friday at Manhattan.
For the first time in school history, a state title was within reach after the Warriors picked up a pair of dramatic 6-5 and 8-6 victories in come-from-behind fashion against Thomas More Prep and Southeast Cherokee.
On the other side, top-seeded Wichita Independent had been on a rampage all season, nipping Galena, 2-1, and perennial power Silver Lake, 3-2.
While the Warriors had been able to come from behind against the likes of Bennington, TMP, and SE Cherokee, they’d yet to run into a juggernaut quite the caliber of the Panthers.
Independent pitcher Tanner Smith, who also went 4-for-4 at the plate, limited Marion to a modest pair of hits while going the distance on the mound and giving the Panthers the state title with an 8-0 shutout.
With the semifinal win over SE Cherokee on Friday, the Warriors had become the winningest team in Marion history.
After a solid semifinal outing earlier in the day against the Lancers, Marion’s coaching staff of Roger Schroeder and Jordan Metro opted for senior Mason Pedersen to get the nod on the mound.
It didn’t take long for the Warriors to see they were facing a monster unlike any they’d seen.
Pedersen had the game blow up on him in the bottom of the first inning, suffering the loss.
The Panthers wasted little time bearing their teeth, erupting for a quick 5-0 lead with only a trio of runs actually earned.
“That’s exactly what it was, a tough start,” Schroeder said. “We made a decision as a coaching staff to try to ride the momentum we had from Mason the first game this morning. It just didn’t work out.
“That’s a good team across the field. They start nine seniors and they’ve got maybe five kids going to play college baseball. Against a team like that, that’s not able to be overcome.”
Facing a Panther pitching rotation entering the tournament with a team earned run average of 1.26, with five runs the maximum allowed, Marion didn’t have a runner on base until the top half of the fifth inning.
By that time, the game was pretty much out of reach after Smith’s RBI single had made it 6-0 and Marion was down to its last six outs.
The Panthers knocked Pedersen out in the second inning with Schroeder going for Peyton Heidebrecht.
Heidebrecht gave it all he had despite not being 100 percent in his final game, entering with the bases loaded and no outs.
About the only bright spot came as the Warriors were able to escape the inning with no further damage inflicted.
Independent swiped their final two runs in the bottom of the sixth off a pair of errors.
Marion had one last chance to get on the board in its final at bat with Pederson getting on base with a rare Panther error.
With Evan Heidebrecht their last hope, Marion’s historical season ended at 23-2 as the sophomore grounded out to third.
“Our guys have nothing to feel bad about. Second place doesn’t feel too good right now, but in a couple of days, with the impact of it, considering we’ve never been a state placer, it should,” Schroeder said. “Sometimes you run into a buzzsaw. That’s just the way it goes.”
Along with Heidebrecht and Pedersen, the Warriors also bid farewell to do-it-all Nathan Baldwin, Seth Savage, and Centre’s Dylan Deines.
“Marion baseball had never won a state baseball game since yesterday. We accomplished that,” Schroeder said. “These guys should be proud of themselves.
“Being the second best team in the state is not something to take lightly.”
With a solid nucleus returning next year, a return trip to Manhattan should be realistic for Schroeder and the Warriors.
The 2018 season opener will feature a rematch of 2017’s finale at Wichita’s Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.