From the beginning of the season, the Marion baseball team set its sights on ending its season in Manhattan at the Class 3A state tournament.
Printed on the back of the Warriors’ team shirts this year was the number 72.4—the distance in miles from Marion High School to Kansas State University’s Tointon Family Stadium.
Not only did the Warriors reach the state tournament, they advanced to the championship game, setting a number of program records in the process.
This year’s Warrior squad enjoyed an 18-game win streak during the regular season en route to the program’s first outright league championship. The Warriors were the first to win a game at the state tournament and took it a step further by winning two. Despite a championship loss, the 23-2 Warriors will go in the record books as the winningest team in program history.
Independent 8, Marion 0
Class 3A State Finals, Friday
Making its first-ever appearance in a state championship game, Marion ran into a buzzsaw in Wichita-Independent.
Panther pitcher Tanner Smith faced two batters more than the minimum, throwing a seven-inning, two-hit shutout to earn the pitching win. He struck out six Warriors, and threw four three up, three down innings before surrendering a hit in the top of the fifth inning.
“(Smith) had a real good straight change,” coach Roger Schroeder said. “He got some swings and misses on it early. He did a good job of attacking the bottom of the strike zone. The curve ball was enough to keep you honest, but it was really the fastball location and the efficiency with it, and then he was able to throw that straight change in there. A straight change is a hard pitch to hit if you don’t see it a lot, and we don’t see quality ones a lot. That kid had really good stuff. He was super efficient.”
The Panthers backed Smith up early, touching Warrior starter Mason Pedersen—who had thrown 33 pitches and earned the win in Marion’s 8-6 semifinal win over Cherokee-Southeast earlier in the day—for three hits and five runs in the opening inning. Marion also made an error in the frame.
The Panthers scored one run off one hit in the fourth inning, then used one hit and a pair of errors to score two final runs in the sixth.
Meanwhile, only four Warriors reached base—Pedersen twice via error, and Corbin Wheeler and Nathan Baldwin via fifth-inning singles. The Panthers turned two double plays.
Pedersen absorbed the pitching loss. In one inning, he gave up four hits and five runs (four earned). He walked one batter and struck out no one. Peyton Heidebrecht and Chase Stringer pitched in relief.
“We thought we’d try to ride a little momentum that we had with Mason from the first game this morning, and it just didn’t work out,” Schroeder said. “That’s a good team across the field from us. They start nine seniors. There’s probably five kids going to play college ball on that team. It is just a tough start. Against a good team like that, that’s not going to be able to be overcome. We were able to overcome some bad starts in the first two games, but not against that caliber.”
Marion 8, Cherokee-SE 6
Class 3A State Semifinals, Friday
In perhaps one of its best defensive performances of the season, Marion overcame a deficit to earn its second win of the tournament.
The Lancers came out swinging, touching Warrior starter Nathan Baldwin for three hits and three runs in the opening frame. Marion got one run back when Corbin Wheeler hit an RBI double in the bottom half of the inning.
Southeast, however, loaded the bases in the third inning, using two hits, two walks and a hit batter to scratch two runs across and extend its lead to 5-1.
Peyton Heidebrecht led off the bottom half of the inning with a single and scored on Wheeler’s RBI base hit. Evann Heidebrecht hit a bunt single, then Seth Savage knocked a two-out, two-run single to make it 5-4. Jacob Vondenkamp’s RBI double tied the game and ended Southeast’s starter’s outing.
Mason Pedersen entered to pitch in the top of the fourth of a tie ball game and threw two 1-2-3 innings, thanks in part to a diving stop and throw to first by Wheeler to secure the first out of the fifth inning.
Then, Marion used one hit and an error to break the tie in the bottom of the fifth inning, scoring when an errant throw got past the Lancer third baseman.
Pedersen gave up back-to-back singles with one out in the top of the sixth inning, but escaped unscathed with a fly out and another defensive play on a ground ball to short.
With Marion leading, 6-5, Cole Srajer, Pedersen and Peyton Heidebrecht hit singles to load the bases in the sixth inning, and Marion later plated two runs when Evann Heidebrecht and Sam Zinn worked bases-loaded walks to increase the Warriors’ lead, 8-5.
The Lancers hit a one-out triple, then scratched one run across with a sacrifice fly in the top of the seventh before Pedersen induced a ground ball to third to end the game.
Pedersen earned the pitching win. In four innings, he gave up three hits and one run (earned) while walking no one and striking out two batters.
Four Warriors had two hits: Srajer, Pedersen, Peyton Heidebrecht and Wheeler. Wheeler and Savage each drove in two runs.
Marion 6, Hays-TMP 5
Class 3A State Quarterfinals, Thurs.
With its 8-inning victory over the Monarchs, the Warriors became the first team in program history to win a game at state.
“It’s a big accomplishment, and these guys bought into it,” coach Roger Schroeder said. “I have a lot of pride in what we do and what’s been done in the past for us. It makes me feel good. I’m so happy for them, so happy for our program.”
Although far from perfect, Marion executed when it mattered most to scratch across the winning run in extra innings.
Three Warrior errors in the sixth inning helped the Monarchs scored two runs to tie the game at 4, then Marion plated a tie-breaking run off one hit to take a 5-4 lead into the seventh.
But the Monarchs sandwiched a ground out with a pair of walks, and Corbin Wheeler was called in to relieve Warrior starter Blaine Mermis. An RBI single tied the game, 5-5. Wheeler then induced a fly ball to right, and Seth Savage made a laser throw to Peyton Heidebrecht for the tag at third to complete the double play and escape the inning.
Despite Peyton Heidebrecht’s leadoff walk in the bottom of the seventh that ended Monarch starter Cole Zimmerman’s outing, a flyout and a double play cleared the bases to send the game into extra innings.
Wheeler surrendered a two-out walk in the top of the eighth but a fly ball to short ended the threat.
Then, Nathan Baldwin led off the bottom half of the inning with a double. Back-to-back walks by Sam Zinn and Savage loaded the bases, then Cole Srajer hit a one-out, sacrifice fly to center to score the game-winning run.
“The way baseball goes, if we don’t end it there, we probably come out on the wrong side of it,” Schroeder said. “They get out of bases loaded, nobody out, that momentum, it’s deflating, so I’m really glad we came through there.
“There was really nothing that went wrong on that play. I would’ve liked to get it done in regulation, but there’s only so much you can do. On the day, we just competed so well. Even with the errors in the field, we found a way to come back.”
To start the game, both starters enjoyed 1-2-3 innings, then each team plated one run in the second inning—TMP’s via an RBI double, and Marion’s via one hit and an error.
A third-inning RBI single by the Monarchs made it 2-1, then Marion took the lead with a four-hit, three-run bottom of the fourth inning. Garrett Hoffner hit a game-tying RBI double, and Srajer later hit a bases-loaded RBI single to put Marion in front. Mason Pedersen’s sacrifice fly made it 4-2.
The score remained that way until the top of the sixth, when the Monarchs used one hit and three errors to score two runs to tie the game.
Wheeler earned the pitching win. In 12⁄3 scoreless innings of relief, he gave up one hit and walked one batter.
Baldwin was 2-for-4 at-bat. Srajer had two RBIs.
Marion concludes the season with an overall record of 23-2 and holds the distinction of being the winningest team in program history.
“Our goal was to be happy to be here and enjoy being here but not be happy just to be here, and I think we’ve achieved that,” coach Roger Schroeder said. “Obviously, we wanted to win one more.
“While we didn’t win, it’s still a great accomplishment to get there. We wanted our season to end on a specific day at a specific time and we achieved that.”
The Warriors will play without six seniors next year: third baseman/pitcher Peyton Heidebrecht, center fielder/pitcher Mason Pedersen, catcher/pitcher Nathan Baldwin, right fielder/pitcher Seth Savage, outfielder/first baseman Dylan Deines and third baseman Jacob Woods.
“Our seniors really turned this leadership around,” Schroeder said. “We struggled with leadership last year, and I don’t think seniors need to be the only leaders. … But these guys really took it upon themselves after a really subpar season last year by our standards. I think they understood that their role had to be more. So proud of them for that. I think that reflected in our preparation and the way we competed.”
Schroeder expressed optimism for the future of the program with a number of returning athletes.
“The experience of being here for three games, you can’t duplicate that,” he said. “We got a sophomore (Chase Stringer) to get two outs for us today. That’s going to help him tremendously moving forward. We had a sophomore (Blaine Mermis) start game one of the state tournament. That’s going to help us so much moving forward. I’m just so happy for this group and this team and so excited for the program moving forward because I think next year could be a good year for us, too.”