DES MOINES — A forgettable beginning has transformed into a previously unimaginable finish thanks to a phoenix-like resurrection.
Marion rose from the ashes of a slow start of a coronavirus-impacted season to catch fire, winning 10 of 13 games and advancing as far as only two other Indians teams have ever reached.
Friday, the second-half run came to an end. Fourth-seeded Norwalk blitzed Marion with five runs in the second inning and rolled to a 10-0 victory in six innings in a Class 3A state baseball semifinal Friday at Principal Park.
“I’m still very proud of this group,” Marion Coach Steve Fish said. “You’re going to tell me we’re going to start 1-7 and we finish the year down at the state semifinals, even in a disappointing 10-run game.
“In a pandemic? My goodness. The reality is we’re playing baseball and to finish it here doesn’t get any better.”
The Indians (11-11) reached the semifinals in consecutive seasons for the first time and third time overall. This was a destination that didn’t seem possible in the opening weeks of the season.
“Not a chance,” Marion senior Brady Johnson said about returning to state. “We turned it around. Our senior leadership came in, helping out the young kids have more confidence in themselves and we ended up making it here.”
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Norwalk snapped Marion’s string of postseason upsets over better seeded teams. The Warriors used a big second inning to take command. A dropped third strike allowed Cael Eck to reach with one out. A throwing error on a fielder’s choice followed and another fielder’s choice loaded the bases.
Tyler Wegner ripped a shot inside first base that reached the corner for a three-run double. Nate Lane added a run-scoring single to take control.
Fish said nerves may have played a part for the first time for a lineup that contains just one senior.
“I think we got a little tight,” Fish said. “We started off with a strikeout and a passed ball and then we started making some errors.
“It got away from us. We got down 5-0. I could tell that really hurt our guys. Our young guys don’t know how to react to that. Not a lot of older kids on the squad.”
Marion put runners on in each of the first four innings, but only seriously threatened to score once. Franck was hit by a pitch with one out in the third. He moved to second on a groundout. Owen Puk delivered one of Marion’s three hits with a single to left field.
Eck threw a strike to the plate, throwing Franck out for the final out. Franck was the only Indian to reach base twice. Cael Hodges and Jaqson Tejada also had singles for Marion.
“They battled back a little bit,” Fish said. “We tried to make something happen by trying to score at the plate. I’ve got to tip my cap to Norwalk. They’re a good baseball team.”
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Eck’s three-run double in the fifth put Norwalk in position to close it in the sixth with two runs on a wild pitch and bases-loaded walk. Norwalk right-hander Evan Borst stifled the Indians, going the distance, allowing three runs and striking out seven.
“We got in a hole,” Franck said. “It was tough for us. He was throwing pretty good.”
Fish said he planned to lighten the mood with a few jokes on the bus ride home, but the players were still hurting from the loss. Time will help them appreciate the experience over the last two years.
“In time, I think we’ll feel OK about it,” Fish said. “I hope it will motivate our young kids. We need to get back here and do some damage next time.”
Johnson and quarterfinal starter Dane Carstensen played in three state tournaments, nearly reaching the semifinals each time. They are the only seniors on the roster. Marion’s starting 10 included three juniors, four sophomores, a freshman and an eighth-grader.
“The sky’s the limit,” Franck said. “The goal is to get back here and put ourselves in position to win the championship.”
The Warriors (19-5) advance to championship game against No. 3 Gilbert (23-3) here on Saturday at 4:30 p.m.
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