The Marion Warriors earned the 2013 regional baseball championship title and a state berth with a down-to-the-wire 9-8 victory over Halstead Tuesday in Hillsboro.
The win was a reversal of fortune from a week prior when Marion, playing at Halstead, had given up a three-inning, 8-2 lead in Game 2 to fall to the Dragons by the same 9-8 score.
This time Marion was facing an 8-2 deficit after the top of the sixth inning, but the Warriors battled to within 8-6 by the end of the inning.
“There wasn’t any panic,” coach Roger Schroeder said. “They understood what was in front of them. We had six outs to play with, and we had to make the most of those outs.”
With Jacob Harper pitching in relief of starter Ethan Hett, the Warriors held the Dragons scoreless in the top of the seventh, stranding a runner at second.
“It was outstanding for (Harper) to come in and put out the fire the way he did,” Schroeder said. “To go out and get a zero in the top of the seventh for us, that was huge.
“If (Halstead) could’ve manufactured just one run (in the inning) it could’ve been the difference between us even being remotely motivated for the bottom of the seventh inning.”
Needing two runs to tie and three to win, the Warriors rose to the occasion. With two outs and runners at second and third, and Zach Robson down 0-2 in the count, he ripped a single to right field that brought Harper and Caleb Williams home to tie the game, 8-8.
“(Zach) understands the game, and he understood what needed to be done,” Schroeder said. “He needed to work to put a ball in play and try to make something happen, and he got a pitch that he could handle and drove it out to right center and it was perfect. We were moving on contact with two outs.”
Taylor Heidebrecht was then hit by a pitch, advancing Robson to second. Dylan Seacat then followed with the walk-off hit that brought Robson home.
“Unbelievable, the way it all turned around,” Schroeder said. “And (for) Dylan to get an at-bat like that was huge. I was so proud of not just him but everybody, the way we battled. It was really an incredible effort.”
The game began with two scoreless innings, but Halstead broke the ice with four runs in the top of the third inning.
“(Halstead is) a pretty good hitting team,” Schroeder said. “I wouldn’t say they’re a great offensive team, but they put a lot of pressure on you—they like to run, they like to hit and run, they like to bunt. They like to do a lot of things to create their own action.
“That one inning could’ve made the difference in the game when we kind of had a little bit of a mental lapse, but we were able to overcome it later in the game and make all the plays necessary to keep us in it.”
Marion answered when Bret Voth doubled to score Robson and Seacat to bring Marion within 4-2 after three innings.
Halstead tossed in a pair of runs in the top of the fourth for a 6-2 advantage. The score remained that way until the Dragons brought home two more in the sixth for an 8-2 lead.
The Warriors’ rally began in the bottom half of the inning. Harper and Williams started with singles; Harper later scored on a balk. Zac Lewman and Jacob Baldwin both drew walks to load the bases.
After Halstead’s Blake Beckett relieved starter Shane VanSteenburg, Robson singled to center to bring Williams home. Heidebrecht followed with a two-run single to center as Marion closed the gap to 8-6.
“We had two hits prior to the sixth inning, and we just started to string together some at-bats—and not even necessarily hits,” Schroeder said. “We worked some walks, we put some balls in play, made them make plays, and we did the most with the couple opportunities that they gave us with kicking the ball around a little bit.
“Everybody just worked to get the next guy to the plate and to keep the line moving and give us a chance.”
After Halstead opened the seventh inning with a ground out, Harper followed with a strikeout, then walked Timothy Glassco, who later stole second.
But the Warriors escaped unscathed when Herb grounded out to second to end the inning.
“It was a gutty performance,” Schroeder said of Harper. “He had just taken a loss the week before to (Halstead), and for him to come out and do what he did and really limit damage and let us crawl back into it, it was outstanding.”
Robson, Heidebrecht, Seacat, Harper and Williams all had two hits in the game to pace Marion.
Harper earned the win by pitching the final 32⁄3 innings. He allowed two hits and two runs (both earned) while walking three hitters and striking out three.
With the win, Marion advances to the Class 3A state tournament Thursday and Friday at Tointon Family Stadium on the campus of Kansas State University.
Marion enters as the No. 6 seed at 16-5, and will face No. 3 Silver Lake (18-3) Thursday at 6:30 p.m. The winner will face either No. 2 Humboldt (15-2) or No. 7 Salina-Sacred Heart (14-5) Friday at 1:30 p.m.
In the top half of the bracket, No. 1 Wichita Independent (22-1) faces No. 8 Wellsville (11-9), and No. 4 Lyons (18-3) battles No. 5 St. Mary’s-Colgan (17-5).
The championship game is set for Friday at 6:30 p.m.
“Just based on what we can do, if we take care of the ball and make quality pitches and put together at-bats like we did in the last two innings of that Halstead game, we’re going to be in good shape,” Schroeder said.
“It’s a great experience, and that’s going to be the goal of the whole thing is to enjoy it and to have fun, but we are going up there with the intention of ruining somebody else’s day.
“It’s going to be fun. We’re excited.”
Marion 8, Hillsboro 1
To get to the championship game, Marion had to get past the home team, No. 3 seeded Hillsboro earlier on Tuesday.
With Hillsboro batting first, second-batter Lucas Sinclair beat out the infield single after Jordan Faul grounded out to third to open the game. Nathan Unruh followed with a single, but the two were stranded when Marion starter Grif Case struck out the next two hitters.
Behind the pitching of Hillsboro freshman Dylan Nelson, Taylor Heidebrecht flied out to right field, Dylan Seacat popped out to shortstop, and Case flied out to left field to end the first inning locked at 0-0.
The game’s first run came in the bottom of the second inning when Marion’s Zac Lewman managed a two-out double that brought Bret Voth home.
Marion added four runs in the bottom of the third inning. Nelson walked Ethan Hett with the bases loaded, allowing Heidebrecht to score, and Caleb Williams followed with a hit that scored Case and Voth. Lewman brought Hett home with a single, and Marion led, 5-0.
“We got into good hitter’s counts to where we could take aggressive swings, but we were smart and understood that we still have room in the count to work, and we didn’t have to expand the zone,” Warrior coach Roger Schroeder said. “We were patient.
“(Nelson) wasn’t a hard thrower by any means, but he was crafty. He threw a lot of pitches; he was able to spin the breaking ball and kind of dance around the zone a little bit and stay out of trouble for the most part. But we were able to work good at-bats in that inning and finally get to them.”
Case added to the Warrior score with a two-run homer in the bottom of the fourth inning.
Hillsboro rallied when Nelson singled to left to open the fifth inning, and Nelson advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Josh Davidson.
Micah Allen reached first on a throwing error, and Nelson advanced to third, but Faul grounded into a 4-6-3 double play that ended the half-inning with Marion ahead, 7-0.
Hillsboro sent staff ace Kale Arnold to the mound at the bottom of the fifth, but Marion added its final run in the inning, thanks to a run-scoring triple by Williams.
“It wasn’t that we gave the game away to Marion,” HHS coach Doug Dick said. “The bottom line is they played well and we did not play our best. When you meet a good team you have to play your best—or at least at a top level—which we didn’t do as a whole team.”
Hillsboro got on the board in the top of the seventh. An Allen single allowed pinch runner Nelson to advance to third; he then scored when Faul reached on an error.
“We always want to take care of the ball and do the little things right,” Schroeder said. “That cost us a run there, but it didn’t hurt us in the end. We set ourselves up good with earlier innings to where that wasn’t a deal-breaker for us.”
Williams, Zac Lewman and Heidebrecht each had two hits in the game for Marion.
Case pitched all seven innings and gave up four hits and one unearned run. He walked three and struck out seven.