With an unprecedented season in the books, the Marion baseball team is back and hungry for more.
The 2017 Warriors did all but win the state title, first securing the program’s first outright league championship with an 11-1 record, then coasting through its Class 3A regional—scoring 13 runs in both of its games—to earn a state trip.
Once there, the Warriors kept momentum rolling, becoming the first Marion team to win a game at state with a 6-5, 8-inning thriller over Thomas More Prep.
The Warriors won two games, defeating Cherokee-Southeast, 8-6, before losing to a senior-laden Wichita Independent team in the state title game, 8-0. With a record of 23-2, the 2017 squad became the winningest team in program history.
Despite losing five seniors, including four starters and a pair of all-state honorees, this year’s Warrior team is built for success.
Marion returns eight players who played in the state tournament, including seven players with at least one game of starting experience. Eighth-year coach Roger Schroeder is optimistic for what lies ahead.
“It’s a unique situation where you lose so much, but you bring so much experience back,” he said. “I think our schedule sets up a little tougher early on, so I don’t know that the record’s going to match it, but I feel like we can be a state tournament caliber team equivalent to what we did last year.”
The Warriors will be without first team All-State third baseman Peyton Heidebrecht, who posted the highest batting average among Warriors playing in 20 games or more. The first team All-HOA selection batted .431 in 24 games (31-for-72). He batted in a team-high 35 runs. His graduation leaves a hole in the lineup offensively.
“We have to find a way to replace a first-team all-stater who put up just monster numbers for us,” Schroeder said. “But I’ve told guys, ‘We don’t need to replace him with one guy. We need to replace him with two guys.’ We need to find a combination of guys that can put together good years that can kind of spread that burden a little bit. The guys playing third base are walking in with no career starts.”
Sophomores Jaxton Tracy, a transfer, and Jensen Riffel each saw time at third base in Marion’s season opener. Also in the mix for starting spots are sophomores Hunter Helmer and Luke Lanning.
Two returning starters will anchor the infield this season.
Senior Corbin Wheeler returns at shortstop. He batted .321 a year ago, including nine doubles and one home run. He drove in 28 runs. He was 8-for-8 in stolen bases.
Junior Evann Heidebrecht returns at first base. A second-team All-HOA recipient, Heidebrecht batted .323 last year (21-for-65), including five doubles. He drove in 20 runs.
Junior Sam Zinn is a returning letter-winner at second base. In 15 games, he batted .500 (8-for-16), including two doubles with six RBI.
Two returning starters will anchor the outfield.
Senior centerfielder Cole Srajer is Marion’s returning leadoff hitter. He batted .350 a year ago, the highest average among returning players seeing action in 20 games or more. He was 28-for-80 a year ago, including five doubles, one triple and one home run. He had 20 RBIs. Srajer received honorable mention KABC All-State honors at second base and was a first-team All-HOA utility player.
In his time at Marion, Srajer has played every position but catcher and first base. He will be called on to play various infield positions as needed.
Senior left-fielder Jacob Vondenkamp is another returning starter. He batted .318 (21-for-66), including three doubles and one home run. He drove in 23 runs.
Marion will rely on newcomers to fill the outfield gaps, including Lanning, Chase Stringer and Eli Hett. Versus Independent, the latter two saw time in the outfield, while Lanning was designated hitter.
With the graduation of Peyton Heidebrecht, Nathan Baldwin, Pedersen and Savage, Marion loses a combined 80.2 innings of pitching.
Baldwin, an honorable mention All-State player who received second-team honors in the league, threw the second-most innings last year (32.1) and recorded the most strikeouts (39). The other three graduated seniors each threw fewer than 20 innings. Of the four, Pedersen had the lowest ERA (2.63, 13.1 innings).
Junior Blaine Mermis returns as a second-team KABC All-State pitcher. A first-team All-HOA selection, Mermis threw the most innings of any Warrior, recording a 1.53 ERA over 36.2 innings of work and posting a 5-0 record. He struck out 29 batters.
Look for Wheeler to contribute on the mound as well. A second-team pitcher in the HOA, Wheeler was 3-0 with a 1.47 ERA over 19 innings. He gave up four earned runs, struck out 16 batters and recorded two saves.
Junior Chase Stringer is a returning letter-winner who will be looked to for an increased pitching role this season. He was 2-0 on the mound with an ERA of 2.86 over 14.2 innings. He gave up six earned runs and struck out 20 batters.
Schroeder said he expects Zinn to step into the varsity rotation after starting the first game of every junior varsity doubleheader last year.
Tracy and Hett, a left-handed pitcher, will provide depth on the mound.
“We went seven deep last year,” Schroeder said. “We were able to distribute the load pretty evenly. We’ve got about six guys right now that I feel like we can trust to get innings.”
Senior Garrett Hoffner returns as catcher. He batted .308 a year ago (16-for-52), including five doubles. He had 13 RBIs. Helmer and Riffel provide depth behind the plate.
Schroeder said Marion has the potential to be a strong defensive team.
“I don’t know how we’re going to settle in because every time we move an arm off the mound, something moves elsewhere,” he said. “Once we figure out roles and who’s going to fill what void, I think defensively we can be really good.”
To be successful, the Warriors will need to run the bases well, make the defense make plays and limit strikeouts, Schroeder said.
As it did last year, the number 72.4 once again graces Marion’s team shirts—the distance in miles to the state tournament site in Manhattan. But this time, the number has been placed in the center of a bullseye.
“Our target is to go to Manhattan—72.4 miles from the high school parking lot,” Schroeder said. “The flip side of that is the target that we’re going to be wearing this year as the state runner-up. We’re going to get everybody’s best shot. We know that. If somebody can line up their No. 1 to face us, we’re going to see them.”
The Warriors will compete in Class 3A again this season before dropping to 2A in 2019.
Marion’s season began just as it ended a year ago—with a game against Wichita Independent at Wichita State’s Eck Stadium March 16. Marion swept the “new”Panthers, 17-11 and 13-1.
If the schedule continues as planned, Marion will play six games before turning the calendar to April, giving the Warriors a step on the competition.
“For us to have six games under our belt before some teams play any is going to be a huge advantage,” Schroeder said.
Marion was scheduled to face non-conference opponent Council Grove Tuesday, while league rival Sedgwick, who returns all but one player and was the only team to beat Marion last year prior to the state tournament, looms large April 10.
Marion will kick off league play by hosting Inman tomorrow.