The Marion baseball team entered Friday’s Class 2-1A state championship game with Elkhart having outscored opponents 248-71 over the course of the season and riding an 18-game winning streak, which tied the program record first set in 2017.
Exactly half of Marion’s 22 baseball games in 2019 ended in a run-rule victory.
But the state title game was far from a run-rule win. This was a heavyweight matchup between two teams with one loss between them, a matchup featuring two strong arms on the mound in what ended in a 3-2 walk-off win for undefeated Elkhart.
“It felt like one run was going to win that game,” coach Roger Schroeder said. “Then it felt like two was going to win it. Then it felt like, ‘Is anybody going to score again?’ It was a very weird transition.”
In a scoreless game through three innings, the pitchers’ duel featured Marion’s Sam Zinn versus Elkhart’s Garrett Hall. The pair combined for 21 strikeouts on the day—nine for Zinn, 12 for Hall—and each went the distance for their respective teams.
Hall threw a no-hitter through five innings and faced just two Warriors more than the minimum in that span as a result of a pair of walks.
“It wasn’t (Hall’s) velocity that was bothering us, it was the arm slot, and it came out real quick,” Schroeder said. “The breaking ball came out of the same spot, and it was tight and late. It took us awhile.”
Zinn, meanwhile, worked around some early Wildcat hits and recorded five strikeouts in the first three innings to hold Elkhart at bay.
“I thought (Sam) threw extremely well,” Schroeder said. “I wouldn’t have changed a thing, really, with the way that he competed on the mound.”
The Wildcats made some noise in the fourth inning, however, using a single and back-to-back errors to load the bases before one run scored on a ground out to short. But Zinn escaped the jam with a strikeout.
After each team went three up, three down in the fifth inning, it was Marion’s turn to make noise. With the Warriors down to their final six outs, Evann Heidebrecht broke Hall’s no-hit bid with a one-out single, then Zinn laid down a bunt for a base hit. Luke Lanning drove in two runs with a go-ahead double, giving Marion a 2-1 lead.
But the Wildcats used a walk, a hit batter and an RBI single to tie the game in the bottom half of the sixth inning.
Seth Lanning hit a two-out single in the seventh, but Marion stranded the base-runner.
The Wildcats brought the top of their lineup to the plate in the bottom of the seventh and hit three consecutive singles, including a perfectly-placed bunt that loaded the bases. Elkhart scored the game-winning run in walk-off fashion on a wild pitch.
“(We’ve) got guys thinking it’s their fault,” Schroeder said. “It’s nobody’s fault. … One play cannot dictate a game. It’s a culmination of everything. I just told them how proud I was. I don’t think we left anything between the lines today.”
Four Warriors recorded one hit: Heidebrecht, Zinn, Luke Lanning and Seth Lanning.
On the mound, Zinn (4-1-1) scattered eight hits and three runs (two earned) over six innings of work. He walked two batters and struck out nine.
Marion ended the season with an overall record of 20-2.
“We always talk about how this is so much bigger than baseball,” Schroeder said. “Right now, baseball is the focal point because we’re here, we’re at the state tournament, but later in life, you’re going to fail, and you don’t have to accept it as something that is okay, but you do have to learn how to deal with it. That’s what we try to instill in them. Unfortunately, we’ve had to deal with it now on a big stage three years in a row, and it’s hard, but these kids are going to be better for it.”
Marion has qualified for the state tournament the past three years—recording six state tournament victories—and has made two championship game appearances.
The Warriors have graduated seven seniors—Evann Heidebrecht, Eli Hett, Blaine Mermis, Jarred Rahe, Cameron Steward, Chase Stringer and Sam Zinn—who have contributed to a program that’s recorded 79 wins and 14 losses the past four years.
“It’s such a learning experience for our guys that are leaving (and) our guys that are still here,” Schroeder said. “I wish we would’ve been able to learn with a win, but it doesn’t always work out that way. I feel fortunate to be able to have the opportunity to coach them, especially the senior kids. … It’s hard to do much better. Three straight final fours, two championship game appearances. Again, it’s not a consolation prize by any means right now—it doesn’t feel good—but at some point (we’re) going to be able to look back and realize that it was a fantastic, fantastic run that we’ve had.”
Rossville—Sometimes one inning changes the complexion of a game. That was the case in Marion’s state semifinal contest Friday, as the Warriors hung seven in the second inning en route to a 9-4 victory.
Marion’s big inning came after the Bulldogs had taken the early lead off a hit, a pair of walks and an error in the top of the opening frame.
Warrior starter Jaxton Tracy settled in after that, and Marion plated run support for Tracy in the bottom of the second, scoring seven runs off five hits and two Bulldog errors and chasing Bulldog starter Edward Brockamp from the game.
Chase Stringer launched a game-tying RBI double to right field, and Evann Heidebrecht hit a go-ahead RBI single. Aided by Bulldog errors, the Warriors kept the line moving, bringing 11 batters to the plate. When Cooper Carpenter was hit by a pitch, the Bulldogs went to their bullpen with Marion leading, 5-1. Blaine Mermis and Tracy each drove in a run with singles off reliever Corey Catron before Rossville escaped the inning.
Luke Lanning hit an RBI single in the fourth inning to make it 8-1, and each team added a run in the fifth for a 9-2 Marion lead.
After Tracy surrendered a one-out walk in the sixth inning, coach Roger Schroeder called on Braedon Mercer to secure Marion’s final five outs. The Bulldogs used an error, four walks and a passed ball to plate two runs without a hit in the frame before Mercer induced a bases-loaded fly out to end the inning.
Marion loaded the bases in the bottom half of the inning—highlighted by Lanning’s leadoff triple—but did not score, then Mercer worked around a two-out single in the seventh and ended the game with a strikeout.
“We expelled a little more energy than we probably needed to,” Schroeder said. “We bailed them out in the later innings at the plate to where we maybe had a chance to shorten that game a little bit.”
Heidebrecht and Mermis were both 2-for-3 at-bat. Each had one RBI. Lanning was 2-for-4 and had one RBI.
Tracy (5-0) earned the pitching win. In 5 1/3 innings, he gave up six hits and three runs (two earned). He walked six batters and struck out seven. Mercer threw 1 2/3 innings of relief, surrendering one hit and run unearned run while walking three batters and striking out one.
Prairie Village-Kansas City Christian—Marion secured a 5-2 state quarterfinal victory Thursday.
The Panthers struck first, using a pair of doubles and a walk to load the bases in the opening inning, then scoring the game’s first run on a sacrifice fly.
But Marion responded in the bottom half of the inning, scoring its first run on Luke Lanning’s ground out, then taking the lead on Cooper Carpenter’s sacrifice fly.
The score remained 2-1 through three innings, then each team plated one run in the fourth.
Marion extended its lead by adding a single tally in each of the fifth and sixth innings. Eli Hett hit a fifth-inning double, and Sam Zinn batted in a run with a single. Cooper Carpenter led off the sixth inning with a single and later scored on Cameron Steward’s ground out.
Carpenter was 2-for-2 at-bat and had one RBI. Zinn was 2-for-3 and had one RBI.
Chase Stringer (3-1) earned the pitching win. In six innings, he gave up five hits and two runs (both earned). He walked six batters and struck out four.
Zinn pitched one hitless inning of relief with one walk and one strikeout.