Warriors return all but two

The Marion baseball team returns all but two of its members from last year. These seniors and returning letter-winners will provide experience to anchor the team: front row (from left) Corbin Wheeler, Cole Srajer, Mason Pedersen, Peyton Heidebrecht; (back row) Garrett Hoffner, Seth Savage, Dylan Deines, Nathan Baldwin, Jacob Vondenkamp
The Marion baseball team returns all but two of its members from last year. These seniors and returning letter-winners will provide experience to anchor the team: front row (from left) Corbin Wheeler, Cole Srajer, Mason Pedersen, Peyton Heidebrecht; (back row) Garrett Hoffner, Seth Savage, Dylan Deines, Nathan Baldwin, Jacob Vondenkamp
The Marion baseball team returns all but two members from last year’s 13-7 squad, leaving seventh-year coach Roger Schroeder optimistic for good things ahead.

The Warriors have relied on youth to fill starting roles the past few years, but the team is a year older now, bringing a wealth of experience to the field.

“I think experience could help us a lot this year,” Schroeder said. “We had young guys that have been forced to play, similar to five, six years ago—that group that went to back-to-back state tournaments.

“A lot of them had to play as freshmen and sophomores, and we took our lumps but we learned from it. Our hope is this group is trending in that direction that they’re learning from things that they’ve come across the last two years.”

Marion’s youth was evident last year in a 1-3 start to the season.

“We struggled out of the gate,” Schroeder said. “We didn’t play well at Chase County, managed to scratch one out at Sedgwick last year and got us back on track. We got back to .500. We played pretty well. We beat a Council Grove team that was really good, and then we turned around and got our teeth kicked in by them.

“It’s just a level of consistency that we haven’t been able to find, but we’ve shown that we can. (I’m) really hoping that can lead to some good success for us.”

The Warriors finished 8-1 in Heart of America league in 2016, one game behind Sedgwick (9-1).

Game 2 of Marion’s final league doubleheader with Inman was canceled because of weather, as was a previous doubleheader with Canton-Galva. As a result, Marion came within one win of at least a share of the title.

Marion’s season ended with a 6-4 loss to Hillsboro in a Class 3A regional quarterfinals.

Infield

With the exception of graduated senior Remington Putter, an honorable mention all-league selection at second base, Marion returns the entirety of its infield.

Junior Corbin Wheeler returns at shortstop. He batted .309 in 20 games last season.

“(Corbin’s) been playing pretty consistently there since he was a freshman,” Schroeder said. “(I’m) looking for him to make another positive step this year.”

Senior Peyton Heide­brecht returns at third. He was a second team all-league selection last season, batting .293.

Returning in a battle for first base are senior Dylan Deines and sophomore Evann Heidebrecht.

Schroeder said he has options at second base. One is bringing junior Cole Srajer, a second-team selection a year ago, in from the outfield. Srajer batted .324.

“We’re really looking for Cole to play a true utility role for us,” Schroeder said. “(He’s) able to bounce around the infield between second, third and short and then play some outfield, too.”

Another option at second is sophomore Sam Zinn, who Schroeder said handles the bat well.

Outfield

The Warriors return their entire outfield, led by senior Mason Pedersen, a first-team all-league selection. Pedersen batted .347 a year ago.

“Mason played pretty much from Day 1,” Schroe­der said. “(He) played a lot as a sophomore as well, so we’re going to look to him to kind of anchor that.”

Junior Jacob Vonden­kamp, second-team selection, batted .333 last season.

Senior Seth Savage returns after battling injury the past two seasons.

“Experience-wise, he’s going to be behind, but he’s shown in practice that he can handle certain things,” Schroeder said. “We’re looking for him to help anchor the outfield as far as depth goes, and provide a left-handed arm on the mound.”

Pitching

Marion sustained a substantial loss on the mound with the graduation of starting pitcher Dylan Pippin. In 46 innings last season, Pippin recorded a 1.22 ERA, pitched seven complete games and tallied a 4-3 record with 52 strikeouts.

Three other Warriors threw more than 20 innings last season.

Peyton Heidebrecht started four games, recording a 1.68 ERA over 25 innings with a 3-1 record.

Wheeler started four games with a 3.25 ERA over 232⁄3 innings and a 3-2 record.

Senior Nathan Baldwin, a second-team all-league pick, started four games, threw 21 innings with an ERA of 2.67 and went 3-0.

Savage, a left-hander, returns to the mound. Srajer also has the ability to throw strikes, Schroeder said.

Beyond that, Schroeder will rely on younger arms, including sophomores Chase Stringer and Blaine Mermis.

“We’re not looking for a start a week from those guys, but to be able to come in and get three, six, nine outs on a day,” he said.

This season the Kansas State High School Activities Association has issued a pitch count rule requiring specified days of rest per pitches thrown. Throwing one to 30 pitches requires no days of rest; throwing 31-45, one day of rest; 46-60, two days; 61-75, three days; and 76-105, four days.

With those rules in mind, Schroeder said it will be more important than ever to develop depth on the mound.

“I’m kind of interested to see how people are going to play it,” he said. “Because I think you can play yourself out of your Friday match­ups on Tuesday if you don’t do it right, depending on level of competition and things like that, obviously.”

An unintended consequence of the new rule, Schroeder said, will be less playing time for non-starters in a potential run-rule game.

“It’s going to change our strategy, and not for the better, in that if we have a chance to bury a team, we’re going to go ahead and put somebody away and save the innings,” he said. “I think that’s going to hurt some development to a certain extent.”

Catching

Baldwin returns behind the plate and will split duty with junior Garrett Hoffner.

“I put a lot on them as far as leadership and play-calling and stuff from back there,” Schroeder said. “We need more out of them. They’re going to be good players for us.

“With Nathan being on the mound and the new pitch limits, more is going to fall to Garrett. We’ll see how it all plays out, but those guys are going to have to do a job for us.”

Outlook

Schroeder said experience in his lineup should lead to good things in all aspects this season.

“Offensively, we do have some things to work on, but I feel like we’re in a good spot,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of guys coming back that saw a lot of at-bats, and should be more comfortable in their approach.”

Schroeder said he believes his team’s depth will be an asset; he expects to play 14 or 15 on varsity.

That depth will help with the new pitch count rule.

“With these new rules, I feel like we’re in a better place to handle them than some schools that we’ve seen,” he said. “I really think we can run seven deep or so at the varsity level (on the mound).”

Schroeder expects the Heart of America to be tougher this season with the addition of Remington. The Broncos, Council Grove and Sedg­wick will provide tough competition for Marion, he said.

Schroeder said it will be key for the Warriors to learn from their mistakes, making sure to prepare the right way and develop leadership.

“I feel like we have a chance to be a good team,” he said. “We should be competitive in our league. The first goal we always set is to win a league championship. It’s only been done once.

“Regionals are kind of a shot in the dark depending on your draw.

“Our goals are still the same regardless of what kind of group is putting on the jerseys.”

Marion began competition March 28 at Council Grove. The Warriors will open Heart of America play at Inman on Friday.