116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — With the game tied and bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh, Marion was plating with house money.
The Indians were ready to gamble on a speedy senior at third base and a freshman that plays beyond his grade at the plate. The worst result would be extra innings.
As Gage Franck’s finger tips slid into the corner of home a blink before the tag after Myles Davis’ sacrifice fly, Marion cashed in on its first state baseball title in school history.
The top-seeded Indians defeated No. 3-seed Dubuque Wahlert, 7-6, in a Class 3A championship game thriller Saturday at University of Iowa’s Duane Banks Field.
“I felt I was in there right away,” Franck said. “I got under it. I was just looking at the umpire to make the call.”
The umpire’s arms signaled safe and the celebration commenced. Players piled on one another and coaches hugged in the infield. Marion (37-6) came away with the top prize in its sixth overall state appearance and fourth trip in the last five seasons.
“It means everything,” Marion senior Owen Puk said. “We put so much work in the offseason and we knew we had a good chance of winning it all if we went out and played our game.”
Wahlert (32-11) eclipsed Marion’s lead in the top of the seventh. Aaron Savary led off with a double and scored. Derek Tauber’s dribbling infield single with two outs plated Landon Stoll to tie it.
“Lucas Unsen, our right fielder, said ‘let’s do what we do (and) let’s go get that run,’” Marion Coach Steve Fish said. “They weren’t fazed. We’re a decent hitting team. We’re going to put the barrel on the ball.”
Davis relieved starter Boede Rahe, the Indians’ starter, and induced a flyout to end the threat.
Franck sparked the rally with a one-out single to center.
“He got two strikes on me and I just shortened up, choked up and was looking for a ball to drive,” Franck said. “I got one right on the outside part of the plate and drove it up the middle.”
Cael Hodges and Puk were hit by pitches in consecutive at-bats to load the bases, bringing up Davis. He reached in his first four at-bats, including an RBI double in the fourth and a single in the third. Fish was confident in the Hawkeye commit.
“He got in there and wasn’t fazed,” Fish said of Davis. “I talked to him a little bit because there was a conference. He had a look in his eyes, I knew he was going to hit it some place.”
Davis lined a shot to right field. Wahlert’s Ryan Brosius made the catch and rifled an accurate one-hop throw to home. Davis was consumed by the mob of teammates.
“The emotions were awesome,” said Davis, who earned the win and improved to 7-0 this season. “The team, the brotherhood and everything that Coach Fish and the team has put together. The countless hours just coming through. It was awesome.”
Wahlert opened with two runs on a Jack Walsh RBI double and Landon Stoll’s run-scoring single in the first. Marion answered with Hodges and Puk scoring on Kaden Frommelt’s fielder’s choice and a throwing error.
The Indians took control with a four-run fourth. Hodges and Unsen had RBI singles, Davis added his double and Puk contributed a sacrifice fly, giving Marion a 6-2 edge.
The Golden Eagles chipped away with two in the fifth on RBI singles from Savary and Walsh. The Indians maintained their lead and overcame the final challenge.
“We knew our bats were going to be there,” Puk said. “We just had to fight, put the ball in play and make things happen.”
Marion’s last two seasons ended in the semifinals, but that hurdle was cleared Friday. The Indians nearly went start to finish as the No. 1-ranked 3A team, wasting little time climbing from third to first in the preseason and second installment of the coaches poll.
“These guys handled that pressure very well,” Fish said. “I don’t know if this team is different than other teams. This is a very confident group.”
For Fish, this has been a four-decade long aspiration, not for himself but for the athletes and schools he has coached. Half of that time has been at Marion. As the team remained in a frenzy, the 61-year-old approached the Marion crowd, pumping his fists in excitement.
His wife, Vickie, sons, B.J. and Baylor, a current Marion assistant, were in attendance. His son, Byron, and daughter, Brittany watched via live stream. Many former players were on hand to see his 763rd career victory culminate with a gold trophy destined for the school’s display case.
“I knew I would get emotional, if I started bringing up my family,” Fish said. “Family is No. 1 for me, but these (players) are my extended family, so that’s why I’m so happy for them and my family.”
Fish confirmed he will be coaching again next season. He isn’t ready to stop working with kids through baseball just yet. Marion returns plenty of talent, including six of 10 championship-game starters.
“I understand how lucky it is to win a state title,” Fish said. “I’m not going to leave my shoes at home plate. I plan on doing this again next year.”