DES MOINES — As coach Kevin Cunningham was leaving the media interview area just beyond the left field fence of Des Moines' Principal Park, he stated what many Clinton baseball fans are already thinking.
"You haven't heard the last of the Kings, I can tell you that," Cunningham said after his River King squad fell one game short of a state title game appearance with a 6-1 loss to Sioux City East in a Class 4A semifinal Friday.
The Black Raiders used opportune hitting and some missed opportunities by the River Kings to advance to a 4A final date with Johnston tonight.
"Timely hitting," Cunningham said. "We had several guys on base and a hit or two there and it changes the complexion of the game."
Trailing 4-0 heading into the bottom of the sixth, Clinton loaded the bases with no outs. Alex Caldwell started with a single. It was the River Kings second hit of the night. Dustin Caldwell then got to first on a dribbler to third and and throwing error got the sibling duo to second and third. Faur gained first when East starter Hayden Godfrey issued his first walk of the night.
East then relieved Godfrey with Trey Lapke to try and end the threat. Lapke popped Cody Collender up to the pitcher and Cody Nolan to second base, but Clinton managed to push across one run when Ryan Driscoll singled to center to plate Alex Caldwell. Dustin Caldwell was thrown out trying to score by East center fielder Dom Thompson-Williams. After six innings, East led 4-1, but Clinton's best scoring opportunity of the night had slipped by.
"When we've been down this year, which hasn't been often, the sixth inning has been our inning," Cunningham added. "Here we are bases loaded with no outs, I thought here we go again, but it didn't happen for us."
Collender fought back tears as he tried to explain his last high school at bat.
"Maybe I was just too hyped up," Collender said. "I wanted to do it all, I wanted to score all the runs. I wish I could have it back."
Cunningham couldn't fault Collender for not producing though.
"Cody is such our catalyst," Cunningham added."I'd take him up there any other time. He hits a little fly ball in the infield. He's down, but he's had great year."
Clinton only managed four hits while East produced eight.
"What I was seeing was timely hitting" Clinton sophomore Murray Henricks said. "We didn't fool them at all. We didn't come with the bats tonight. Overall, the ball looked like a softball up there. We were hitting the ball, but just right to them. That's how baseball goes."
East got out to an early start plating two runs in the top of the second. The pitcher Godfrey helped his own cause with an RBI triple to right bringing in Lapke. Godfrey scored a batter later when JJ Stephens popped out to center and Godfrey tagged up.
The Black Raiders added two more in the third. Jake Westphal plated Tyler Franko who reached on a fielder's choice then stole second. Lapke recorded East's second triple of the game with the next at bat and scored Westphal. Through two and a half innings the Black Raiders led 4-0.
"We held them in the first inning and their pitcher seemed to be a junker and we couldn't really get a read on him in the first couple innings," Clinton starting pitcher Jake Simpson said. "I couldn't hold their bats off in the second inning, they were hitting the gaps. The defense was behind me for the plays they had to make and we just couldn't help the hits."
Jake Faur came on in relief of Simpson to start the fourth inning and retired seven straight Black Raiders before Lapke roped a single to left, but then sat down the next two to end East's half of the sixth inning.
"Jake Simpson is a guy who never has any fear, I just don't think he was hitting his spots," Cunningham said of his junior pitcher "There again they had timely hitting. Their hits seem to fall and ours didn't."
The Black Raiders added two more runs in the top of the seventh when a sacrifice fly to right field by Brandon Carlson scored Jake McDonald. Tyler Franko then scored his brother Spencer Franko with an RBI single.
East carries a 32-9 record into Saturday's title game, while the River Kings end their season at 26-15.
Clinton was looking to make their first state final contest since winning a title in 1964.
With just three seniors gone off of this year's team, hope abounds for Clinton's underclassmen.
"Our next to goal is to win state," Henricks said. "That's all it is next year. Win state."
Collender echoed his now former coach's sentiments as he put the wraps on his high school career.
"I know these guys have what it takes to get back."