Passed ball dashes MHS title hopes
Warriors lose 3-2 heartbreaker in title game
Marion’s soon-to-be senior Luke Lanning has rapidly transformed into one of the Warrior baseball team’s most reliable hitters.
Anytime Marion has needed a clutch hit when hopes were grim, Lanning has been one who the Warriors have been able to count on.
Hopes were indeed looking bleak Friday afternoon.
Playing for a state title for the second time in three years, the Warriors were in a 1-0 jam against Elkhart in the final game of Great Bend’s Class 2-1A state tournament.
While the Warriors have firepower to overcome a small deficit such as 1-0, they had yet to see a pitcher with the unusual form of Elkhart’s ace, junior Garrett Hall.
Hall kept the high-powered Warrior offense neutralized through five innings, allowing just two base runners for Marion with free passes.
Senior Evann Heidebrecht finally spoiled Hall’s no hitter by leading off the top of the sixth with a single to shallow center field.
Lanning’s two-run double brought a Warrior crowd that had been dormant to life, putting the Warriors up 2-1 with Elkhart down to its last six outs.
That was enough for the Wildcats, though, and Marion’s bid for a state title crumbled with Elkhart swiping a 3-2 heartbreaker.
The Warriors’ season ends at 20-2, the third consecutive season with 20 or more wins and the second out of three with no more than two losses.
“We left everything on the field, and I’m so proud of the guys for the way they competed,” heartbroken Warrior coach Roger Schroeder said. “There’s so much more to this than just baseball.
“You’re going to fail later in life. You’ve got to learn how to accept it and deal with it. These kids are going to better for it. Our program’s going to be better for it, and all the ones that have come through will be, too.”
Marion’s tournament plans worked out perfectly; get as much as it could out of pitchers Chase Stringer and Jaxton Tracy, then leave it up to Sam Zinn to deliver a state title.
Stringer got the win in the first round, throwing 105 pitches to lead the Warriors past Kansas City Christian, 5-2, and Tracy went five innings in a 9-4 semifinal victory over Rossville.
The title game proved to be a rubber match between Zinn and Hall, and it was everything that could be asked for.
Zinn held his own, firing a three-hitter for one earned run while escaping a potentially disastrous situation with the bases loaded early.
Elkhart made the Warriors pay with minimal damage, grabbing a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning.
Throughout the year, the Warriors have been most successful when they get a quick start.
Once that happens, Marion is almost impossible to stop.
The explosion came, but it cost the Warriors their most productive part of the lineup, the top of the order.
Marion finally got to Hall in the sixth when the Warriors took their only lead, giving their faithful hope that first title was within reach.
Zinn couldn’t hang on to the lead, though, and Elkhart knotted the game in the bottom of the sixth at 2-2.
The Wildcats had the advantage of being the home team and getting the final at-bat by running through the season unbeaten.
That proved to be pivotal with Marion’s top hitters in the lineup unless the game was extended.
The window for a title began closing with the Warriors going down in order in their final at-bat.
While Zinn avoided disaster once, he couldn’t do it twice, loading the bases with Elkhart 90 feet away from a state title.
Ultimately, Marion’s hopes went down the drain in arguably one of the worst of ways.
Catcher Hunter Helmer mishandled Zinn’s pitch with a passed ball, allowing the Wildcats to score from third.
“It ended on a funny play,” Schroeder said. “The ball got past him, but he stopped two other guys from scoring earlier. One play cannot dictate the game. It was a culmination of things; it just didn’t go our way today. That’s the way it goes.
“I feel fortunate to have coached these guys. It’s hard to do any better than three final fours, two title games, and third place. It’s by no means consolation, though.”
Also playing their final game along with Stringer, Zinn, and Heidebrecht were Cameron Steward, Blaine Mermis, Jarod Rahe, and Eli Hett.