Marion kicked off the 2018 baseball season with a rematch of last year’s Class 3A state tournament title game, facing defending state champion Wichita Independent Friday in two windy games at Wichita State’s Eck Stadium.
Coach Roger Schroeder arranged the rematch to fill a hole in the Warriors’ schedule. Originally scheduled to be played at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, the game was moved to WSU because of logistics involving the NCAA tournament in Wichita
“We had a full 30 minutes to hit on the field,” Schroeder said. “They had the batting tunnel out and the L-screens. It was cool. We got to go through kind of a college-type pre-game, and I think our guys really enjoyed it.”
For all of the Panthers’ dominance in the 2017 state title game, this was the Warriors’ time to shine, as Marion earned a doubleheader sweep by scores of 17-11 and 13-1.
This was a much different Independent squad as only one Panther returned from last year’s state championship team on a roster dominated by sophomores.
“They’re a young team,” Schroeder said. “You could see it when we were able to put a little bit of pressure on them on the defensive end. They kicked the ball around for us, but that’s part of our job on offense (is) to put pressure on folks.”
Pitcher Blaine Mermis started Game 1 and earned the win in a high scoring affair that began in the top of the first inning. Marion’s patience at the plate resulted in four walks. Those, combined with two hits—singles by Corbin Wheeler and Luke Lanning—and two errors, help the Warriors push across five runs.
Independent responded by plating two runs off two hits and two errors in the bottom half of the inning.
Marion increased its lead to 13-2 with an eight-run second inning. Mermis contributed a three-run double to right field to highlight the surge.
The Panthers chased Mermis from the game with a three-run third inning that made it 13-5. Marion scored one run in both the fourth and fifth innings, while Independent scored two in the fourth. The Warriors took a 15-7 lead into the sixth inning and plated two more runs off two hits in the top of the sixth.
Independent made some noise late with a one-hit, four-run bottom half of the inning, in which Marion also made an error. But reliever Chase Stringer retired three batters in a row to limit the damage.
Wheeler four hits in five at-bat, including a double, and an RBI.
Mermis also hit a double and drove in three runs. Seven of Marion’s 17 runs were earned, but aided by 12 walks.
Meanwhile, Mermis pitched 22⁄3 innings and gave up three hits and five runs (three earned). He walked three batters and struck out two.
Schroeder said Marion’s offense needs improvement, especially in hitters’ counts.
“We scored 13 runs in the first two innings, and then we just put together bad at-bat after bad at-bat in the third and fourth inning when we had a chance to really step on somebody’s neck, and then we let them kind of get back into it,” he said.
Marion completed the sweep with a 13-1 victory in five innings.
Sam Zinn pitched all five innings, giving up three hits and one earned run. He walked three Panthers and struck out nine.
“We did a good job (cleaning up errors), and I think it started on the mound,” Schroeder said. “Sam threw tremendously. He attacked the strike zone. It allowed our defense to really settle in behind him.”
Marion used a hit and an error to score four runs in the first inning. Wheeler drove in two runs with a single.
Independent scored its only run in the bottom half of the inning, thanks to a pair of walks and an RBI single.
Marion scored a run in both the second and the fourth innings. In the fourth inning, after Luke Lanning reached base via error, Cole Srajer chased him home with an RBI triple to increase the lead to 6-1.
The Warriors blew the game open with a seven-run top of the fifth inning, recording three hits and benefitting from two Panther errors. Riffel, Srajer and Zinn each hit singles in the frame.
Nine of Marion’s 13 runs were earned; the Warriors drew nine walks and struck out only once. Independent committed five errors.
Zinn went 2-for-3 at the plate. Srajer was 2-for-4 and had three RBIs. Wheeler also drove in three runs.
“All in all, the day couldn’t have gone any better,” Schroeder said. “We got two wins, we got to play on a Division 1 field, but I also like to be realistic and know that we have a lot of things to clean up.”
Coming— Starting next year, Marion will be on a two-year cycle with Independent, Schroeder said.
Marion (2-0) was scheduled to continue non-league play by hosting Council Grove Tuesday. The Warriors will begin Heart of America league play by hosting Inman Thursday.