Prep Baseball

Owen Puk's walk-off single against Solon sends Marion to state baseball tournament

No. 4-ranked Indians win Class 3A substate final at home, 2-1

Marion Indians
Marion Indians

MARION — Everything unfolded right in front of Owen Puk.

The Marion sophomore watched as Solon made the logical move, setting up a force at every base with two intentional walks as it need one out to extend the game and its season. The move brought Puk to the plate with everything on the line.

“In my mind, I’m just thinking, ‘Let’s go. Let’s get a hit. Let’s go to state,’” Puk said. “I was just seeing if I could get one across the plate.”

Puk laced a line-drive single to center field, scoring pinch-runner Mark Horcher for the game-winning run and capping fourth-ranked Marion’s 2-1 victory over Solon in the Class 3A Substate 6 final Wednesday night at Les Hipple Complex.

“We’ve worked really hard all year for this,” Marion pitcher Rick Atkins said. “It’s good to see some results after last year and the first-round exit.”

The Indians earned their second state baseball berth in three seasons and secured the program’s best season record, improving to 32-5.

“I really wanted this group, like every group, to get down to Des Moines,” said Marion Coach Steve Fish, who has led the Indians to four state tournaments. “We had a heck of a regular season and to win it like this it just speaks volumes. It’s a great feeling.”

Puk was 1-for-3 before the final inning, hitting a run-scoring single that drove in Nick Cole, who had doubled, for a 1-0 lead in the third.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

He was due up sixth in the frame. He watched Atkins lead off with an infield single and move to second on Lucas Unsen’s sacrifice bunt. Gage Franck moved him to third on a right-side groundout and allowed Horcher to replace him.

Solon Coach Keith McSweeney made his second visit to the mound to discuss strategy and elected to intentionally walk Trevor Paulsen and Cole, who had two hits apiece, to get to Puk.

“All three of them hit the ball hard,” McSweeney said. “It’s more about having that force, if you get a ball in the hole. You can look at it from several different angles.”

Smart move, but just the wrong time. Puk worked the count and jumped on a 2-1 high fastball.

“He left it a little over the plate and I just tried to put the barrel on it,” Puk said. “It feels great. I love the seniors here. I don’t want to see them go. I want to play as long as I can with them.”

Fish said he was confident with Puk in that situation and that Puk has persevered other battles this season.

“The poor kid has been hurt all year long,” Fish said. “He is one of our best hitters, especially anything with velocity.

“I felt pretty good he was going to barrel something up because he is a competitor and he continues to do well. For him to do that is special.”

For most of the game, Atkins and Solon’s Cam Miller were locked in a pitchers’ duel, allowing just one run apiece through the first six innings. Atkins, a senior who will play baseball at South Dakota State next season, embraced a sobering reality as he marched to the mound.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

“I knew this was the last time I was going to step across the lines here at Marion,” Atkins said. “That seventh inning, I told myself that I’m not going down without a fight. I was going to throw my stuff. I was going to be confident.”

Atkins retired the Spartans in order for the fifth time in seven frames. He closed with two strikeouts, giving him seven for the game.

The stage was set for the walk-off win. Atkins started things with his game-high third hit, taking advantage of a fastball.

“The previous two at-bats he threw me a fastball, so I was looking for it,” Atkins said. “I got another one, which was nice. I didn’t do too much with it and drove it back up the middle.”

Atkins allowed just four hits, including Jackson Pipolo’s RBI double to score courtesy runner Brayden Rickertson in the fourth to tie the game. He helped his cause with three successful pickoffs.

Two came in the sixth. Miller led off with a single to center and continued to second when the ball was misplayed. When a courtesy runner came in, Fish visited the mound to set up a trick play.

As the runner led off second, Atkins faked a throw. Both middle infielders dove to sell the ball going to the outfield. As the runner attempted to run to third, Atkins chased him down from the mound to tag him out.

“It was a huge play,” Fish said. “They had a guy on second with nobody out. You have to have that in your back pocket, so we practice it just for fun. We put a wrinkle in it. It was our night. Things started going our way at the end.”

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Miller made a solid start for the Spartans, scattering 11 hits and striking out eight batters. He stranded four Marion runners in the first two innings, closing each with two strikeouts.

“Cam pitched great,” McSweeney said. “Obviously, he’s a huge competitor. He’s our best. We wouldn’t want anyone else out there.”

Solon ends the season 22-18.

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

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.