MARION -- The Marion High School baseball team got off to a strong start with a 6-1 win over Murphysboro on a chilly Friday evening at the Crisp Sports Complex.
The Wildcats bring back six starters from a team that went 20-7 last spring, a record that included a share of the South Seven Conference title and a Class 3A regional championship.
That campaign ended with a loss to Troy Triad at the Centralia Sectional, but now Marion is loaded again and showed most of those weapons in beating the Red Devils.
"I told the kids that you expect the first game of the year not to be real crisp and it wasn't," said Marion coach Marty Manfredo. "We walked a few too many batters and we took too many strikes. But we put together a few hits and we ran the bases aggressively."
Cavan Cameron, one of the returning Wildcats, started on the mound and struck out the first two batters he faced before giving up a double to Murphysboro catcher Kenny Peterein.
Cameron then walked Ethan Crabtree, but after the fourth ball Marion catcher Ryan Trokey threw down to second and picked off Peterein's courtesy runner, Wyatt Reiman, who had strayed off the base.
Then in the bottom half, Austin Palmer led off by stroking a high fastball for a double, then after Mitchell Jackson and Cameron both drew two-out walks, Jake Welch popped a two-run single for a quick 2-0 lead.
Welch is not one of the returning starters, but is very familiar to Marion baseball fans.
"Jake paid his dues," Manfredo said. "He barely got to play last year, but he played all summer and hit the weightroom. He's gotten stronger and I'm very proud of him."
Marion didn't score again until the fifth, but those two early runs were huge.
"It makes all the difference in the world," Manfredo said. "When your pitcher is pitching with a lead, it's a whole lot different than when he's behind."
Cameron struck out six batters and gave up three hits with three walks in four innings. After fanning two in both the first and second frames, he ended the third and fourth with punchouts to strand runners on base.
"Cavan threw well," Manfredo said of the junior. "He's not going to overpower a lot of people but he keeps people off-speed and gets a strikeout every now and then. He's a very heady player."
Cameron also helped himself with a two-run single in Marion's four-run rally in the fifth. That frame also included another RBI hit by Welch and a run-scoring hit from Josh Griffin after Palmer and Drake Gravatt both reached.
Christian Burgrabe pitched the fifth and sixth and was tagged for the only Murphysboro run, but it was unearned after a dropped fly ball. Jackson, a senior signed with Southern Illinois University, pitched around a bad-hop error and a two-out single for a scoreless seventh.
"Our pitching is what's going to carry us this year and they were right on," Manfredo said. "Seven innings and one unearned run is about as good as you're going to do."
The opener was scheduled for Thursday but moved forward a day by bad weather. The Wildcats had Saturday off and return to action Tuesday at home against Massac County.