It was a season replete with memories, achievements and bonds which may last a lifetime. Unfortunately, it didn't finish with victory, the Owls falling to sixth-ranked Savannah, 10-0, in the third-place game of the MSHSAA Class 3 Championships at Springfield.
"Fourth place is better than nothing," remarked senior Aaron Skinner, recognizing that 118 other clubs in the state would love to trade places. "It felt good to be here, felt real good to play."
Marshall was shut out for the only time this season by Savages senior Blake McFadden (10-0), a fireballing right-hander signed by Kansas State. He set a state tournament record with 18 strikeouts while tossing a one-hitter.
"He kept us off-balance all day" with a combination of high-80s fastballs, breaking pitches and change-ups, noted Owls head coach Ian Verts -- whose squad entered the Final Four with a .417 on-base percentage. "He did a good job of staying in the strike zone and keeping up off-balance."
Savannah made it easier for McFadden by scoring seven runs in the first two frames, including three tallies without a hit in the top of the first inning.
An error and two walks loaded the bases with one out, with a booted grounder and two wild pitches from senior Jordan Pannell plating runners.
Pannell doubled with two outs in the bottom of the first, but that would be Marshall's only hit. Junior Henry Tietz drew a walk and an errant pick-off throw put both runners in scoring position, the lone such opportunity for the Owls during the contest, but McFadden snuffed that threat with a K.
The Savages filled the sacks with none out with two free passes and McFadden's infield single, getting its first hit with junior Zane Wilt's two-run double. Senior Collin Porter relieved for Marshall, but a sacrifice fly by junior Tyler Wilt and a fielder's choice grounder following senior Clayton Holt's single allowed two of the inherited runners to score.
Although Porter threw four shut-out innings, the Owls were too far behind against a pitcher the caliber of McFadden to come back.
"He kept getting better as the game went on," Verts said. "You give him seven runs, and it's almost a given."
McFadden struck out the side in the third and fourth innings, and allowed no more than one batter to reach base in any stanza after the first.
The Savages added three runs in the top of the seventh, freshman Clayton McGinness stroking an RBI double and McFadden getting a two-run single. Savannah (24-5) brought home a state plaque for the second year in a row, having reached the finals the previous season.
While it wasn't the end Marshall's six seniors wanted, they had accomplished something no other group in the program's 25-year life had done: make it to the Final Four.
"They busted their tails and took their lumps, and reaped the rewards for it," Verts said. "They've shown these young guys what it's like to go this deep in the season."
"They always had good, positive attitudes," remarked junior Zach Bishop. "They kept the team going."
The Owls (17-12) now know how the game is played at the elite level, and proved they belong there by taking top-ranked Westminster Christian of St. Louis deep into Friday's semifinal with a lead before falling, 8-2. The Wildcats weren't so challenged in the championship game, scoring seven runs in the first inning to beat ABC League rival Lutheran South, 10-4, for their second title in a row.
"Get back here and win some games" is Marshall's goal, according to Verts. "You always want to finish winning your last game."
That will now be up to members of the Class of 2013, like Bishop, who welcomes the challenge: "We feel we really have to step up and lead the team."