By Brenden West
Assistant Sports Editor
DES MOINES —
Following Friday's 6-1 state semifinal loss to Sioux City East, it was hard to find a Clinton player without at least misty eyes. Some were outright bawling, some found it tough to swallow.
For all they'd accomplished — going to state despite being seeded third in their substate bracket, upsetting top-ranked Ankeny in the quarterfinals, winning a tournament game for the first time in more than four decades — the crash following the high was especially hard.
"I'm just going to miss this team, these seniors. They're so great," sophomore Evan Jackson said through a thick throat, wiping his eyes. "I'm just starving to get back to this. We wanted this one so much, and ... I'm just really going to miss these guys, you know."
The River Kings certainly left their mark on the tournament. As it turns out, Principal Park — Des Moines' host site for the baseball finale — left Clinton with a few shots to remember.
Such as when Alex Caldwell nearly dazzled and definitely scared the River Kings faithful with his hard crash into the left-field foul wall going for the ball. Or when in the next inning, Jackson laid down a bunt and was pegged straight in the hip.
Both players wound up finishing the game, though they were still a little banged up afterward.
"I had a beat on the ball," Caldwell said. "It turns out manmade objects were in the way. I didn't even think about it when I was going for it. That's what it takes to come out here and play winning baseball."
Jackson said: "I didn't know where the ball was coming from. It stung a little, but we all knew we had to go all out to do this. It's win or go home."
Both players, too, aren't satisfied with the taste of a semifinal finish.
"Nobody thought we could do this," Caldwell said. " We did it. We came to the semis and played our hearts out. You've got to go for those plays (to the wall).
"It's going to take a lot of work in the offseason, and it's going to be tough without this year's seniors. The incoming seniors have to come back next year and step up."
He scored the game's lone run in the sixth inning and led all Clinton hitters, going 2-for-4. During that rally, the River Kings loaded the bases with no outs, down 4-0. Cody Collender — Clinton's season-long offensive leader — popped out; Cody Nolan lined out. And Ryan Driscoll's hard drive to center scored only one run, with the inning ending on another hard knock at the plate.
East center fielder Dom Thompson-Williams threw a strike after scooping up Driscoll's hit, and catcher Dakota Blatchford nabbed Caldwell's brother, Dustin, at the plate for the final out.
"Timely hitting," Clinton coach Kevin Cunningham said of the inning. "We had several guys on base and a hit or two there and it changes the complexion of the game."
The play appeared to send Clinton tumbling from its Cloud 9 run in the playoffs. The landing back to earth was hard, but returning players are confident they will get back on their feet next season and compete again.
"We gave it 110 percent tonight to try and get that W. Unfortunately it didn't happen," Jackson said. "I'm just ready to get back to that first practice."