116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Owen Puk wasn’t going to miss this moment.
The Marion senior remained in town with hopes of capping his career with a state title, declining a chance to report to Florida International early. Puk reaped the rewards of his loyalty and leadership Saturday.
The top-ranked Indians scored in the bottom of the seventh to beat Dubuque Wahlert, 7-6, for the Class 3A state baseball championship at University of Iowa’s Duane Banks Field. Marion earned its first state crown in baseball in six appearances.
“There was no doubt I was going to stay here,” Puk said. “It all paid off. It’s the best feeling in the world.”
Marion Coach Steve Fish recalled a discussion in early spring. Puk informed him Florida International coaches wanted him to arrive in July. At the time, Fish was hoping he could return for the postseason. Puk opted to stay, which was a welcome decision.
“The day he came to practice and said that, I don’t think I quit smiling,” Fish said. “I knew then we would be dangerous in the postseason because he’s a difference maker. He’s really, really good.”
Puk entered the final game with a .427 batting average and .520 on-base percentage. He ranked among the leaders in all offensive categories, tallying a team-best 18 doubles. He also posted a 6-0 record on the mound with a 1.54 earned-run average and 55 strikeouts in 36 1/3 innings. Puk struck out eight and allowed just two hits in six innings in Friday’s 9-2 state semifinal victory over DeWitt Central.
Some players have reported to college early, forgoing a full senior season. Others have competed with travel teams. Puk had plenty of options.
“It means the world, because he loves Marion baseball,” Fish said. “That is why he’s here. There are some people that might think he does what he wants to do but he’s vested in this team, his teammates and this program. He wanted to be here.”
He has been a mainstay in the Marion lineup since his eighth-grade season, when he and Gage Franck were on the 2017 state quarterfinal roster. The all-state duo helped lead the Indians to two straight state semifinal appearances before winning it all in their final high school game.
“We just kept building off of each year to finish off like this,” Franck said. “It’s been a tradition that we’ve carried over since 2017.”
Puk and Franck have been a part of four of Marion’s state teams, reaching new heights. The Indians finished 37-6 and set a new school record for wins. They didn’t do it alone but they were a substantial part of it, along with a strong core of seniors.
“I don’t want to take anything away from our other seniors, but they have been the glue,” Fish said of Franck and Puk. “They are the baseball guys.
“The rest of the senior guys — Ryan Paulsen, Garret Wagner, Bryson Mossman, Lucas Unsen — unsung heroes.”
Puk said Fish has meant a lot to him, while Franck referred to him as a “great guy.” He helped the seniors reach this point as well.
“He wants us to be our very best,” Puk said. “He pushes us so hard. It means everything to get that title for him.”
Both said helping Fish win a state title was an important goal. This was his first finals appearance in 37 years as a head coach and assistant.
“We just wanted to get it done for him this year,” Franck said. “We knew we had a special group. We’ve been here the last two years and got beat in the semis. We just wanted to finish the job and we did.”