SOLON -- The Marion Indians began the postseason tournament a year ago with a precarious victory in the district tournament and wound up reaching the semifinals of the Class state tournament in Des Moines.
Coach Steve Fish hopes history repeats itself this year.
The Indians squeezed past Clear Creek Amana, 2-1, in the 3A district semifinals at Solon on Friday night in a game they were heavily favored to win.
Marion arrived with a 27-12 record, including a pair of easy victories over Clear Creek Amana earlier in the season, and the Clippers began the night with a lowly 6-27 mark.
On paper, it looked like a mismatch. On grass, it looked like a nailbiter.And in the scorebook, it looked like a victory. "It's not about the score of games at this time of the year," Fish noted.
A year ago, the Indians needed a two-run, walk-off homer by Kasey Semler in the eighth inning to survive Center Point-Urbana, 3-1, in the district opener. Fish reminded his club of that game after Friday's close call.
"Absolutely," he said. "That's one of the first things I said. I said, 'Do you remember last year?' We had to go eight innings against Center Point and had a walk-off home run."
Marion (28-12) will return to Solon on Monday to face the host Solon Spartans (16-24) in the district finals at 7 p.m. Solon defeated Marion in the semifinals of the state tournament last year, but the Spartans suffered heavy graduation losses and have an entirely different club this year.
Clear Creek Amana (6-28) looked like an entirely different club Friday, at least compared with how it played in 9-2 and 8-1 losses to Marion on May 29. Dillon Villhauer, a right-hander who pitched only 16 2/3 innings during the regular season due to a sore shoulder, tossed a complete game for the Clippers and kept the Indians off-balance all night.
"One of my better outings," he acknowledged.
"I thought he did a nice job," said Fish. "He changed it up on us. I thought we looked a litle anxious at the plate, but they are much improved. Holy smokes."
The Indians did not hit very well, but they got solid pitching, played strong defense and turned four double plays in seven innings.
Tyler Hedtke (6-2) pitched 4 2/3 innings and got the victory, but he left a jam for Cale Cannoy to navigate in the top of the fifth. The Clippers had runners on first and third with only one out when Cannoy relieved Hedtke.
Fish gave Cannoy the ball and some words of wisdom. "Pound the zone, like he always does," Cannoy remarked.
It was good advice. On Cannoy's second pitch, Villhauer bounced into a 6-3 double play as Marion shortstop Christian Stekl fielded a ground ball, stepped on second base and fired to first for the twin-killing to preserve a 2-1 lead.
Cannoy loaded the bases all by himself in the top of the sixth inning with two walks and a hit batter with one out, but the Indians escaped again with a snappy 4-6-3 double play. Second baseman Mitch Wagner fielded the grounder and flipped to Stekl for the force play, and Stekl's relay to first nipped the runner in the umpire's judgement (but not Clear Creek Amana's.)
Cannoy enjoyed a 1-2-3 inning in the seventh with two strikeouts to get the precarious save.
Cannoy also played a prominent role when Marion scored in the bottom of the fourth inning to snap a 1-1 tie, but all he had to do was stand there and absorb a little pain. Cannoy was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded and two outs, forcing in a run.
Cannoy, a senior, was relieved his high school baseball career did not end with a loss to a struggling ballclub that played one of its best games of the year.
"We could have had a little more energy, I think," he said. "That could have helped in that regard. But other than that, we played a tough team."
CLEAR CREEK AMANA (1)
Villhauer, p, 3 0 1 0, Liddell, 2b, 3 0 0 0, Bandy, rf, 2 1 1 0, Jensen, c, 2 0 1 0, Campbell, cr, 0 0 0 0, Wagner, 1b, 1 0 1 1, Anderson, lf, 3 0 0 0, Rourke, 3b, 3 0 0 0, Klingeman, cf, 3 0 0 0, Stopko, ss, 3 0 1 0. Totals 23 1 5 1.
Wagner, 2b, 2 1 1 0, Stekl, ss, 2 0 0 0, Biery, 1b, 3 0 0 0, Johnson, c, 3 0 1 0, Q.Cannoy, cr, 0 1 0 0, Davila, dh, 3 0 1 0, Hedtke, p, 0 0 0 0, Connolly, rf, 0 0 0 0, McGarvey, lf, 3 0 0 0, C.Cannoy, rf/p, 1 0 0 1, Fuller, 3b, 2 0 1 0. Totals 22 2 6 1.
Clear Creek Amana 000 100 0 - 1 5 1
Marion 100 100 x - 2 6 1
Villhauer and Jensen; Hedtke, C.Cannoy (5) and Johnson. W - Hedtke (6-2). L - Villhauer (2-3). S - C.Cannoy. 2B - Jensen. SB - Klingeman, Q.Cannoy, Charipar.
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