VINTON – The deafening silence couldn’t be blamed on the couple of hundred yellow-shirted Marion fans who nearly outnumbered Benton Community supporters at Wednesday night’s Class 3A substate final.
The sounds of silence, instead, came from their boys’ bats as the Indians lost a chance for a repeat state tournament appearance in a resounding 8-0 loss.
Marion was credited with just one hit for the night and that was on a grounder to short by Alex Charipar that could have been an out if handled cleanly.
“We didn’t get good swings on the ball,” said Marion Coach Steve Fish, whose team bowed out at 29-13 and tied a school record for victories in a season.
Despite splitting regular-season games by identical 7-1 scores, Benton’s Bobcats entered the rematch ranked sixth in the state with a 34-7 record. Their .373 team batting average was third in Class 3A, and they led the class in runs scored.
“I knew coming in that for us to win,” Fish said, “we had to put pressure on them and score a couple of runs early. When they went up 1-0 (in the fourth inning) it was concerning because we weren’t hitting the ball.”
The game got away late as Benton scored three runs in the sixth and four more in the seventh off Indian ace Tyler Hedtke (6-3), but it was an anemic offense that sealed Marion’s fate.
The Indians struck out seven times and hit only three balls out of the infield all night.
“I think we were trying to do too much,” said Marion senior catcher Addison Johnson. “We hit some balls pretty hard. But they were right at ‘em.”
Bobcat starter Mitch Moser (10-2) had their number all night. He was the loser the first time the two teams met, but it was a different story this time around.
“He pitched a great game,” Johnson said. “He kept us on our toes. And we hadn’t seen on a regular basis this year the kind of velocity he throws.”
Fish agreed, sort of.
“He was good tonight,” the coach said. “But we should have shortened our swing and moved the ball around the other way. We tried to pull too much. And we needed to hit the ball on the ground more.”
For his part, Hedtke gave up a bloop single in the first but then mowed down the next nine batters, five of them on strikeouts.
The Bobcats scored their run in the fourth with two outs after an error by shortstop Christian Stekl was followed by a double to deep right-center by Jordan Kearns.
For Marion, the bottom fell out in the sixth and sunk deeper in the seventh.
Jacob Germann, who came in batting a team-leading .478, doubled to left to open the sixth frame. Kearns hit his second double in a row, Jordan McFarland dropped a duck snort into left field and Karson Kuester brought two runs home with a single to center.
Benton tacked on four more in the top of the seventh with four singles (including one by Kearns) and yet another double by pitcher and leadoff batter Moser (a .477 hitter).
“I felt really good the first couple of innings,” said Marion senior hurler Hedtke. “But then I started missing my pitches, and they capitalized on my mistakes.”
As bitter as the final defeat turned out, Fish said he was far from disappointed in the season.
“We lost all of our hitters from last year,” he said of the team that made it to the state semifinals. “I wouldn’t have believed this group of guys would win a record 29 games and make it into the substate finals.
“To do what they’ve done is remarkable.”
Marion threatened only twice Wednesday.
The Indians loaded the bases in their half of the fourth with the infield hit, a walk and hit batsman but left all three stranded.
Then, in the sixth, they put runners on with another walk and hit batsman but came up empty-handed when Charipar lined into an inning-ending double play.
“We didn’t get any breaks,” Johnson said.
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