No matter how the Sectional 23 championship ended, the Marion Giants’ 2019 season would go down as a major success.
Monday’s contest marked Marion’s first championship game appearance since 1998, and put the finishing touches on just their second winning season in that same time period.
However, after a campaign that saw Marion baseball finally return to prominence, their run came to an end against the Jay County Patriots, who shut them out by a score of 8-0.
Marion recorded just four hits in the contest – two coming from centerfielder Anthony Reynolds – while leaving eight runners on base.
Jay County’s Noah Arbuckle kept the Giants’ potent offense in check, striking out five in a complete-game effort.
“He had some of us struggling up there,” Reynolds said. “He was mostly trying to find the outside of the zone, so we had to move up on the plate. Some of us just couldn’t adjust to it. We couldn’t get the timely hits when we needed it.”
After Marion starting pitcher Ethan Dixon and the Giants’ defense worked their way out of a bases-loaded jam in the top of the first, they looked to take an early lead in their half of the frame. Reynolds led off with a single and swiped two bases to put himself on third with one out. However, a suicide squeeze bunt attempt backfired, as Reynolds was caught in a rundown between third base and home plate, eventually being tagged out.
After the first inning, Marion only reached third base one other time.
The second inning ended without either team denting the scoreboard, but in the third, Jay County was able to take a lead that would stand for the rest of the contest. Michael Schlechty and Daniel Fugiett recorded RBI singles and Wyatt Geesaman scored on a Marion error, giving the Patriots a three-run advantage.
Two more errors by the Giants in the fourth inning proved to be costly as well. Quinn Faulkner scored on one Marion miscue, while Ryan Schlechty, after reaching first on an error, scored on an RBI single from Arbuckle, increasing Jay County’s advantage to 5-0.
Ryan Schlechty added another run with an RBI single in the fifth, before Arbuckle and Michael Schlechty capped up the Patriots’ scoring with an RBI double and a sacrifice fly, respectively, in the sixth.
Armed with the lead, Arbuckle got more comfortable on the mound as the game wore on. Despite allowing six Marion baserunners in the final four innings, he escaped every jam, keeping the Giants off the scoreboard.
“If we score in the first inning on that suicide squeeze, it could have been a whole other story,” Marion Head Coach Mark Fagan said. “We had a couple balls hit hard at us, and we didn’t make the plays. They are a great ball club. They are top-15, so you can’t take anything away from them.”
Regardless of the outcome, it has been an incredible final ride for Marion’s seniors, which included Reynolds, Dixon, Dylan Meyer, Maliki Newsom, Broc Allgood, Travis Metzger, Jaquan Reeves, Dre Aguilar, Tyras Brown, and Kyree Simmons. Behind their leadership and their strong play all season long, the Giants finished with 16 wins, and helped to revitalize a program that had fallen into disarray over the course of two decades.
“It’s lot of fun when you have 10 seniors,” Fagan said. “I’m going to miss every one of them. It was a lot of fun seeing them all grow up.”
All of these young men have grown up together, playing with and against one another at various levels of competition throughout their formative years. Because of that, they have formed a bond with one another – one that only grew stronger as time passed.
“It’s been really special,” Meyer said. “We took a team that won four games my freshman year to 16 wins and a sectional championship [berth.] We came up short, but we should be able to walk off this field with our heads high because we are very proud of what we have been able to accomplish this year.”
“We had to keep our heads high those first three years,” Allgood added. “It was tough for us trying to get wins. But this year…it was so much fun. All of us seniors, we stuck together. We just had a lot of fun this year.”
Dixon, who was Marion’s top pitcher throughout the season, did not spend his entire high school career with the Giants, but the two years he did spend in the purple and gold will be a period of time he will never forget.
“My first two years, I was at Eastbrook, so I didn’t get to play with them, but it was cool when I got to come here and play with all of them,” Dixon said. “It’s been a lot of fun. I know all of them. I’ve played with all of them. So it was cool to finish out my high school career with all of them. They are a great group of guys, and I was glad to have them all my side this season.”
As all of the Class of 2019 moves on to the next stages of their lives, they will all fondly look back on what they accomplished.
“It’s been really special,” Reynolds said. “We’ve grown a bond that really can’t be broken throughout all the years we’ve played throughout tee-ball, PAL club, up to Lincoln Field, and then up to high school. It’s really special.”