DES MOINES — Sioux City Heelan had no answer for Rick Atkins.
The Marion senior left-hander threw a dominant complete-game three-hitter with 16 strikeouts to send the Indians into the Class 3-A state baseball semifinals with a 4-0 win over the Crusaders at Principal Park Tuesday.
Atkins allowed a single to Jared Sitzmann and a walk in the first inning before striking out Trent Hope to get out of trouble. He then allowed just one base runner while tallying 12 straight outs on strikeouts. The runner was Mike Pithan, who singled and stole second in the top of the third.
“He just blew us away and we couldn’t do anything with him,” Heelan coach Andy Osborne said. “Seven (strikeouts) was kind of our number, and we knew that we were really going to have to battle to score. We knew we couldn’t strike out any more than seven times, and he just blew the doors off us all day.
“When you have a lefty with two or three pitches with velocity you are on your heels the whole day trying to hit.”
Fifth-seeded Heelan (29-11), playing its fourth straight state tournament and 19th in program history, didn’t get a runner past second base.
“His fastball jumped on hitters really well, he had good off-speed and was around the zone all day,” Pithan said. “Sixteen strikeouts kind of speaks for itself. Guys were just less confident after seeing his stuff, but in those type of games you just have to keep your head up and keep moving on.”
Fourth-seeded Marion, which recorded a program best 32-5 record entering state, has now won 10 straight games and will face Cedar Rapids Xavier in the semifinals on Friday.
Marion, making its fourth state appearance and second in three years, struck early as Gage Franck led off the bottom of the first by reaching on an error and scored on Trevor Paulsen’s single to left off of Heelan starting pitcher T.J. Chamberlain. Two batters later it was Owen Puk smacking a ball to right center for a triple to put the Indians up 2-0.
The lead grew to 3-0 in the third inning as Paulsen was hit by a pitch and scored on Nick Cole’s deep double to left. Chamberlain kept the Crusaders within striking distance by standing the bases loaded. The Indians’ final run came when Paulsen stole home with two outs in the fifth inning.
“I thought T.J. pitched well for the most part. The defense wasn’t great and made a few mistakes,” Osborne said. “In games down here you just can’t do that.”
Chamberlain and reliever Brant Hogue allowed just five hits, but two of them went for extra bases to drive in runs.
The ending may not have been what the Crusaders were looking for, but their journey was something Osborne wants his team to remember.
“I couldn’t be more proud of this group because it seems like every step of the way we had the chips stacked against us,” he said. “Beginning of the year — if you would have told us we would have ended up down here in May — we would really have to go a long way. These kids fought, clawed every step of the way.”