116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Grayson Kirsch is a freshman on a talented and experienced baseball team.
The left-handed pitcher capitalized on an opportunity to show he’s capable to compete under stress.
Kirsch pitched out of a bases-loaded jam to force extra innings and retired the last nine batters he faced, helping Class 3A top-ranked Marion defeat No. 3 Cedar Rapids Xavier, 8-7, in nine innings Thursday night at the Saints’ Ken Charipar Field.
Boede Rahe scored on Cael Hodges’ groundout for the decisive run that earned Kirsch his first varsity win and pushed Marion to 3-0.
“I wanted to see him in a situation like this because there’d be a lot of eyes on him,” Marion Coach Steve Fish said. “He came through. That was a huge bright spot, I thought.”
Kirsch entered the game after Xavier opened the seventh with a single and three straight walks to score a run and place the game-tying run at second. He said he had a “slight feeling” before the game that he would see action. Kirsch embraced the challenge.
“I’m always ready to throw,” Kirsch said. “I just love it.
“I’m just trusting myself and the team behind me, knowing I can throw strikes. I’ve been working all offseason.”
Xavier’s Aidan Henry welcomed Kirsch to the game with an RBI line-drive single to center, moving the tying run to third and the game-winning run in scoring position.
“I thought, just keep pitching,” Kirsch said. “What else can I do? Try.”
The Saints (4-1) didn’t reach base again. Preston Lang followed with a sacrifice fly to left, bringing in courtesy runner Carlos Baez-Perez to tie the game, 7-7.
Kirsch buckled down and stymied the Saints the rest of the way. He struck out the next two batters to end the threat. Kirsch also worked 1-2-3 innings in the eighth and ninth, closing the game with two more strikeouts.
“I could feel it going through the zone,” Kirsch said. “It was just me pitching.”
Not bad for someone who arrived late because of his spring sports responsibilities. Kirsch hustled to get to the diamond in time and was still prepared to contribute.
“I had soccer practice until 6:30,” Kirsch said. “My mom picked me up and brought me straight here. I got warmed up and ready for the game. Ready to cheer on the team.”
The outing was a good learning experience for Kirsch and an eye-opening moment for Fish, proving he has another able arm for a team looking for a repeat state title. Kirsch showed himself something as well.
“I have a lot of confidence,” said Kirsch, who pitched 4 1/3 innings in three games last year as an eighth-grader. “Coming in now, I’m just ready to pitch, and I have a good team and everything.”
Marion built a 3-0 lead, pushing one across in the first and two more on a Myles Davis single in the second. The Wolves added a run in the fourth for a 4-2 advantage.
With the scored tied, 4-4, in the sixth, Marion posted a rally to regain the lead. Hodges, Davis and Kaden Frommelt had consecutive two-out hits. A Davis single plated Hodges and Davis scored on Frommelt’s opposite-field double to right.
“That was really good to see, too,” Fish said. “I think it’s a champion’s mentality that we’re never out of it.”
Rahe added an RBI double in the seventh for a 7-4 lead. Hodges and Davis each had three hits. Davis drove in three runs, while Hodges scored three times.
Fish said this was a good early-season test. The Wolves were able to play some new faces and some in new positions.
“It made me happy because I saw some depth,” said Fish, who noted regular third baseman Jake Trca missed the game due to injury. “It’s going to help out down the road.”
The Saints managed a couple rallies to stay in the game. They went through their batting order before getting a hit off starter Payton Hodges. Alex Neal delivered a timely two-run double to score Maverick Burger and Andrew Hamlett, pulling Xavier within 3-2 in the third.
Caleb Even reached and eventually scored on an error in the fourth. Neal scored on a Henry sacrifice fly in the fifth, setting up the seventh-inning comeback. Neal and Henry led the Saints with a hit and two RBIs. Neal also walked twice and scored twice.
“Our guys competed and that’s the biggest thing,” Xavier Coach Dan Halter said. “We get down 3-0 and come back. They get up again and come back. It was good to see us battle.”