SALEM — It was a bad day on the worst day to have a bad day for the Marion baseball team.
Burying itself immediately under a barrage of walks, hit batters and other mistakes, the Wildcats were out of their Class 3A Salem Sectional semifinal against Waterloo almost as soon as it started.
Down 5-0 before the third inning ended, Marion couldn’t mount any kind of comeback against Bulldogs ace Dustin Crawford, collecting only two singles in a season-ending 7-0 loss.
Waterloo will play Carbondale on Saturday morning at 11 for the sectional title. James Baltz ripped a dramatic two-run double with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning to lead the Terriers by Highland 4-3 in a taut nightcap.
“You know how postseason is,” Wildcats coach Marty Manfredo said. “You lay an egg, it’s going to bite you. It just seemed like we couldn’t do anything like we’ve done it the last couple or three weeks. We just gave them too many free bases.
“It was a bunch of everything.”
After permitting just two runs in beating Salem and Mount Vernon at the Centralia Sectional, Marion (22-7) trotted out SIU signee Mitchell Jackson. But the 6-5 senior was off from the outset, and didn’t have the benefit of facing an opponent that was too eager to swing.
Waterloo (21-12) picked up two first inning runs while putting just one ball in play – Crawford’s bouncer to second that scored Tyson Roedl. Four walks, a hit batter and two passed balls fueled the Bulldogs’ outburst.
Coming off a regional championship win over Columbia and its ace pitcher, Missouri signee Shane Wilhelm, Waterloo clearly wasn’t cowed by facing Jackson.
“You’re not going to do too much better than beating those two guys,” Bulldogs coach Mark Vogel said. “Our guys have competed well at the plate. It’s not going to happen too often that you beat DI people back-to-back games.”
After throwing 37 pitches to get through the first, Jackson was touched for two more runs in the second. Trey Kueper poked a two-out, two-run single into center for a 4-0 advantage.
To make matters worse, Jackson appeared to feel for his hamstring after making a pitch in the third. Manfredo went out to check on him, and Jackson stayed in the game, but he just never found the feel for his pitches on the arm-side.
Roedl delivered a two-out single to center for a 5-0 lead. After Ty Kueper drew Jackson’s fifth walk of the day, Manfredo came out with the hook following 2 2/3 innings and 80 pitches.
“He was really struggling with his release point,” Manfredo said of his ace. “He just didn’t have his good stuff. It was one of those days for us.”
Meanwhile, Crawford efficiently mowed down the Wildcats with a sinker-slider mix. He permitted just two hits, singles to Drake Gravatt and D.J. Tucker, and never allowed a runner to reach third in an 86-pitch complete game.
In the second game, Carbondale (20-7) trailed Highland 3-2 after a Kyle Schlater RBI single with two outs in the top of the eighth. But Justin Massingale singled and Vinny Rushing walked to put the tying and winning runs aboard with one out.
After Bodie Davis looked at a third strike, Baltz made his third hit of the night the biggest of his career. He lined a Tyler Werner fastball to the fence in left-center, easily scoring the speedy Massingale and Rushing to set off a raucous celebration.
“I was just thinking get my hands to the ball,” Baltz said. “I was just trying to put the ball in play. Our guys set me up for that. I wasn’t thinking too much. Just tried to keep a calm mindset.”
Riley Dyer gave the Terriers a 2-1 lead with a two-run homer to left in the fourth. He protected that lead until the seventh, when Schlater pounded a 1-2 pitch over the fence in left.
Dyer and Highland starter Kolby Frey each delivered quality starts, going 6 2/3 innings and yielding just two runs.
Dylan Perrott picked up the win in relief for Carbondale.
“As soon as we got a guy on in the eighth, I had a feeling we were going to win it,” Terriers coach Scott Hankey said. “The last six weeks or so, it seems like someone always comes through.”