Prep Baseball

Marion's Rick Atkins strikes out 16 in dominant state baseball tournament shutout

Indians advance to Class 3A semifinals with 4-0 win over Sioux City Heelan

DES MOINES — Marion pitcher Rick Atkins said he felt like he was all alone at times.

He stood in the center of Principal Park, blocking everything out except for Jake Trca’s target and the slight breeze.

The senior left-hander almost set down Sioux City Heelan all by himself. Atkins struck out 16 in a three-hit shutout and fourth-ranked Marion dropped Heelan, 4-0, in the Class 3A state baseball quarterfinals Tuesday.

Atkins was in the proverbial zone for athletes, fanning 13 of 14 batters from the end of the first through the fifth.

“It felt like it was just me and the wind,” Atkins said. “Nothing else.

“It was probably one of the most fun days of baseball that I’ve played.”

Marion Coach Steve Fish made his way to the bullpen before the game and watched Atkins warm up. He noticed Atkins had a tenacious look in his eyes.

“What can you say about it?” Fish said about the performance. “He was locked in. He had his second pitch working.”

Atkins, a South Dakota State signee, increased his strikeout total to 119 in 68 2/3 innings and lowered his 0.45 earned-run average. He had strikeout stretches of six straight and seven straight, including three in the second, fourth and fifth, with only one walk.

Atkins (10-1) said he felt good but didn’t expect this type of performance.

State baseball scores, schedule

Next stop: Principal Park. The coaches have seeded the field in all four classes and the brackets are set for the 2019 Iowa high school state baseball tournament in Des Moines.

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“I expected them to make a little more contact after going over the scouting report and seeing how they hit the ball,” Atkins said. “I just felt like I had good control of my off-speed today, especially with my fastball was diving away, so that helped a lot. They didn’t catch many barrels, which was nice.”

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Starting shortstop Trevor Paulsen leads Marion in assists and didn’t have a ball hit to him in the 25 batters that came to the plate. Heelan had two pop outs to second base, two fly outs to right and a sacrifice bunt that Atkins fielded.

Paulsen didn’t mind the lack of action.

“It’s a lot of fun seeing him when he’s on,” Paulsen said. “We know how special he is when he’s really pitching well.”

Paulsen was busy at the plate instead. He scored three of the Marion runs and drove in the other. His first-inning single scored leadoff batter Gage Franck and he scored on Owen Puk’s triple to deep right-center field for a 2-0 lead.

Paulsen was hit by a pitch in the third and scored on Nick Cole’s double roped to the left-field wall. Paulsen walked in the fifth and stole home after a botched bunt attempt.

“I got on and we got big hits from Nick and Owen to get me in,” Paulsen said. “We didn’t bunt the best but we found a way to do it anyway.”

Marion (33-5) advances to the semifinals for the first time since 2011. The Indians have had early exits at state basketball and baseball in previous seasons. They wanted to extend a season that has come with a program record in victories.

“We’ve got a good group of seniors that we’ve been playing together in a lot of sports forever,” Paulsen said. “We wanted to get down here. Some of my teammates and I in basketball and baseball got knocked out in the first round three times. We didn’t want to go that route again.”

Top-ranked Cedar Rapids Xavier (39-2) awaits Friday with a state finals berth at stake. The Metro programs have not played each other since the Indians won a 3A district final July 17, 2017.

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“I can’t wait,” said Atkins, who plans to be teammates and roommates with Xavier senior Garrett Ries next year at SDSU. “It will be a really fun game.”

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

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