Prep Baseball

Cedar Rapids Xavier edges Marion in all-Metro state baseball semifinal

Isaac Ball delivers go-ahead RBIs to send Saints to Class 3A title game with 4-1 win

DES MOINES — Cedar Rapids Xavier’s Isaac Ball never imagined he would be in this position.

After all, he didn’t even crack the Saints starting lineup until this season.

When the opportunity came up for Ball to play the role of hero in one of the season’s most crucial moments, he exchanged smiles with Xavier Coach Dan Halter at third and delivered more hits and RBIs than he did all of last season.

Ball hit a two-run single to break open a tie game in the bottom of the sixth, helping top-ranked Xavier to a 4-1 victory over No. 4 Marion in the Class 3A state baseball semifinals Friday at Principal Park.

“It’s crazy,” Ball said. “I never thought I would be here, playing at Principal (Park) and even starting.

“All the hard work has paid off for us and it’s crazy that we’re going to play on Saturday night.”

The Saints (40-2) advance to the championship game for the first time since a runner-up finish in 2007. They face third-ranked DeWitt Central, which defeated No. 2 Davenport Assumption, 4-1, for its first finals appearance. The Sabers (38-3) eliminated Xavier in the district finals a year ago.

“It’s really exciting,” senior Garrett Ries said. “It’s fun. I’m just excited to play with the team one more time and hopefully get a state title.”

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What a difference a year makes, especially for Ball. He played in just two games with one RBI in an official at-bat. The senior designated hitter is now tied for third on the team, tallying his 42nd hit and his 36th RBI of the season.

“He’s such a fun kid to coach,” Halter said of Ball. “He’s had such a great senior season for us.

“It’s so awesome. He didn’t get any playing time as a junior. Senior year, he just kept battling, kept improving as the year went on. I’m just so proud of him.”

Xavier and Marion were deadlocked in a 1-1 tie thanks to gems from the Indians’ Dane Carstensen and the Saints’ Logan McDermott. Marion’s Gage Franck had an RBI single in the fifth and Xavier’s Quinn Schulte drew a bases-loaded walk in the bottom half.

Xavier was able to break through, getting a leadoff walk to Kyle Moeder and a single from Ries. They moved to second and third on a Nick Banowetz sacrifice with one out. Carstensen produced a pop-up for the second out.

Marion elected to walk a speedy Nate Skala to create a force at any base, bringing Ball to the plate. He dropped a single to center that drove in Moeder and courtesy runner Tyler Dupont for a 3-1 edge.

“I was up there to put the ball in play,” Ball said. “I don’t really remember that much. I think I might have seen a curveball, maybe a fastball, I don’t know.

“I wasn’t sure. I was like ‘Get over his head, get over his head.’ and it dropped. I was pretty happy.”

Jaxson Konzen followed with an RBI single to plate Skala for an insurance run.

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All this came after surviving a severe threat by Marion in the top half. Trevor Paulsen drew a leadoff walk and Nick Cole reached when McDermott made an errant throw to first on his sacrifice bunt.

Marion had runners on third and second with none out, but the Indians couldn’t convert. A groundout to shortstop held the runners.

McDermott made amends for the previous error by scooping up a safety squeeze bunt and tossing home for Ries to apply the tag for the second out.

“We’ve run stuff like that all year,” Marion Coach Steve Fish said. “It just went back to the pitcher a little bit.

“Nobody out and men on second and third. We were in a great situation.”

Marion tried to induce a pickle during the next at-bat, but McDermott gunned it to third to pick off the runner, ending the inning.

“He kept his head about him,” Halter said. “The bunt got down, he came and got it and got the play at home.

“When they tried the double-steal move, he had to execute it. Good throw, good tag and that’s just so fun to watch.”

McDermott improved to 8-1 this season. He matched his longest outing of the season and allowed only two hits. McDermott showed poise, overcoming two walks in the first and the late threat and retiring Marion in order in the seventh.

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“We knew he wasn’t going to get rattled,” Halter said. “He was going to be calm, but for him to throw a complete game against that team, one run, that was awesome.”

Carstensen shut out Xavier through the first four innings and held the Saints without a hit.

“I thought he threw really well for us,” said Trevor Paulsen, who went 1-for-1 with two walks to lead Marion. “He’s thrown great for us all year. They weren’t barreling many balls up for a while.”

Marion finished the season with a 33-5 record. The Indians set a program record in wins and reached the semifinals for the second time in school history.

“I’ve had a heck of a ride,” Fish said. “I’m really proud. I don’t want to say this team is better than another team, because every team is special. This was a special group and I will always remember it.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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