Prep Baseball

Marion's unlikely postseason runs continues with state baseball quarterfinal win

No. 8-seeded Indians knock off top-seeded Sergeant Bluff-Luton, 3-1

DES MOINES — Their coach just takes off his cap and shakes his head. He doesn’t fully understand it.

“I don’t know. It’s unbelievable,” Steve Fish said Tuesday afternoon, after his Marion baseball team continued its highly unlikely playoff run with a 3-1 win over Sergeant Bluff-Luton in a Class 3A state tournament quarterfinal at Principal Park. “These guys just keep fighting. I don’t think we know any better, to be honest with you. If you’d told me June 15, when we started, that we’d be in the state semifinals, I’d have had a very hard time believing it. But they’ve been lights out. Just play baseball, keep fighting.”

And keep advancing.

Marion (11-10) will play a 3A semifinal Friday afternoon at a time to be determined against fourth-seeded Norwalk (18-5). The Indians will certainly not be favored, but that ain’t new.

Heck, they were a No. 7 seed in their district. They were the No. 8 seed here, following Kingsley-Pierson in 1A as an 8 knocking off a 1 in the quarters.

“We’re just playing loose and having fun now that we’re the underdogs,” said Marion third baseman Jake Trca.

“Coming into this game, we were a very confident team,” said winning pitcher Dane Carstensen. “We were on a three-game win streak in the postseason, obviously. We were the 8-seed playing the top seed. We had nothing to be afraid of.”

Ah, sometimes ignorance is bliss.

Carstensen came into this game with an earned run average of 4.43, having given up 19 more hits than innings pitched. Sergeant Bluff-Luton (20-4) had a team batting average of .330.

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This didn’t appear to be a good matchup, and it wasn’t ... for SBL. Carstensen gave up just two hits in six innings, working around six walks.

SBL’s lone run was unearned. A clutch performance.

“We call him Big Game Dane,” Fish said.

“Keep the fastballs out of the middle of the zone,” Carstensen said. “It was throwing the fastball inside, keeping them off the plate. Then when they back off, throw the curveball and let them swing over the top of it. We knew they hadn’t seen me before. We knew they were just going to back over top of it, give us groundballs. When they didn’t hit over top of it, they’d hit pop flies.”

Lucas Unsen’s fortuitous two-out RBI single, that was wind and sun aided, in the second gave Marion a 1-0 lead. Gage Franck’s sacrifice fly in the fourth made it a 2-0 game.

Trca’s ringing double into the left-field corner in the fifth scored Owen Puk in the fifth for the Indians’ other run. Puk picked up the save with a scoreless seventh, though it was far from easy.

Marion thought it had the final out a couple of times, though a call at first base and a couple of borderline two-strike pitches went SBL’s way and loaded the bases with two away. Puk got the benefit of a 2-2 pitch against No. 3 hitter Spencer Kleene for a called third strike that finally ended it.

“Take a deep breath, get zoned in,” Puk said. “Zoned in, trying to make a good pitch and pound the strike zone.”

Marion began this season 1-7, with a lineup that included three sophomores, a freshman and an eighth-grader. Carstensen and second baseman Brady Johnson are the only seniors that play.

Yet here they are, a state semifinalist for the second year in a row and the third time since 2011. As Fish pointed out, they’re playing with house money.

And playing and playing and playing.

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“Just a bunch of little guys who are doing their jobs,” Fish said. “I’m so proud of them. I’m so proud of this team.”

Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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