MARION — Marion Coach Steve Fish doesn’t take anything for granted.
Victories are meant to be earned and he wants his players to appreciate each one.
In a season that already contained the longtime skipper’s 700th career coaching win, the fourth-ranked Indians have assured themselves of fewer losses than any team in program history. They can also tie the program record for wins in a season with a home victory over South Tama Monday in the Class 3A District 11 final.
“This team has that right now, and, yeah, I think that is significant,” Fish said of the mark that bettered seven losses in 1983. “As is, if they are able to win another game, they’ll tie the wins record.
“Those things are nice when you’re old like me and looking back on it. But I keep telling them ‘You guys have to celebrate each one of these wins. Celebrate the game.'”
Marion is 30-5 overall this season, including a 22-2 record since June 10. The Indians own a seven-game win streak. South Tama (15-21) was swept at Marion in mid-June, but Fish doesn’t like being considered a favorite since baseball can create some wild situations.
“It scares me,” Fish said in an interview with The Gazette after Friday’s 5-0 win over Newton in the postseason opener. “It’s probably harder on me. The rest of the coaches think I worry about everything. You play a team that was 2-27 (Newton), then you look ahead with South Tama. We beat them twice here, but it doesn’t matter. Teams beat teams all the time. One bounce this way, one bounce that way …”
The Indians returned plenty of experience. They had to rely on the development of some younger players to improve depth. Junior Brady Johnson told The Gazette that players stepped in to fill voids, especially when senior Nick Cole was injured.
“It’s been a fun season. A lot of wins,” Johnson said. “Tried to keep going and maintaining all the wins we could get.”
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Left-hander Rick Atkins has been a key for Marion. He improved to 9-1 Friday and has 103 strikeouts in just 61 2/3 innings pitched. He has limited the opposition to a .147 batting average and yields a 0.45 earned-run average.
Marion was driven by last year’s one-and-done district performance. This season’s record is a product of multiple factors.
“I think it’s the coaching,” Atkins said. “And we’ve bought into each other this year. After last year and being knocked out first round, that really hurt us. We had a big junior class, had a lot of guys come back this year, and I think we locked in because we didn’t want that to happen again. We wanted to go far this year.”
Top-ranked Xavier (36-2) hosts Decorah (16-16) at Ken Charipar Field in the District 5 final. The Saints hammered Iowa Falls-Alden, 16-1, in four innings, while the Vikings shut out Center Point-Urbana, 3-0.
“Friday was the first time I saw them but they played clean defense and were fundamentally sound,” Xavier Coach Dan Halter said. “Their pitchers threw strikes, offense put the ball in play and we will certainly need to execute and do our job.”
Washington (22-8) hosts second-ranked Davenport Assumption (29-4) in the District 9 final. The meeting is the second time in three seasons they have played for a district title with Assumption winning in 2017.
Solon (21-17) plays at Oskaloosa (22-10) and West Delaware (15-23) travels to No. 3 DeWitt Central (34-3). Benton Community (15-24) faces Dubuque Wahlert (17-21) at Maquoketa.
In Class 4A, second-seeded Iowa City High (25-15) hosts No. 3 Pleasant Valley (23-11) for a Substate 6 semifinal at Mercer Park. The Little Hawks beat the Spartans, 8-6, at home on June 26. The winner advances to Wednesday’s substate final against Linn-Mar at Oak Ridge Middle School.
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Iowa City Liberty edged Cedar Rapids Washington in a wild postseason opener. The Lightning (23-17) earned another home game at Mount Mercy’s Plaster Athletic Complex, welcoming West Des Moines Valley (16-18). Top-seed West Des Moines Dowling awaits the winner in the Substate 7 final.
Cedar Rapids Prairie hits the road after a first-round victory over North Scott on Friday. The Hawks (21-19) will play at Davenport West (20-16) in the District 5 semifinal. Second-ranked Iowa City West (32-7) will host the winner for a state berth on Wednesday.
Some of Saturday’s 1A and 2A district finals slate was postponed until Monday. Pekin (15-8) and Iowa Mennonite (13-7) will play for the 1A District 8 title in Kalona. In 2A, West Branch (18-7) returns to the district finals for the second straight season, traveling to Wellman and facing Mid-Prairie (18-11). The Bears and Golden Hawks split a doubleheader earlier in the season.
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