By Jon Gremmels Herald Sports Editor
The Clinton Herald
---- — DAVENPORT -- Clinton High baseball coach Kevin Cunningham didn’t try to disguise his feelings after watching Davenport West sweep his team Monday.
As he walked away from the team’s post-game meeting, he offered his assessment before a question was asked.
“The most disappointing two games we’ve had all year,” he said.
Cunningham watched left-handed pitcher Tommy Dorton dominate the River Kings in the opener, a 6-2 West win, then saw his ace battered for five runs in the bottom of the sixth inning of a 10-8 comeback win for the Falcons in the second game. The sweep moved West (13-13, 8-8 Mississippi Athletic Conference) ahead of Clinton (19-12, 7-9) for fifth place in the MAC standings. The River Kings are tied for sixth with North Scott, the team they play on the road Thursday in the final games of conference play.
“In earlier games you can coach around this, but we’ve played 30 games and are making plays we shouldn’t make,” Cunningham said.
“It’s unbelievably frustrating. We just played awful,” Clinton senior center fielder Ryan Driscoll said. “Up 8-5 with our ace on the mound and he gives up five runs the last three innings -- unreal.
“We know we’re better than that team. With substate two weeks away, it’s not a good feeling.”
Driscoll, who led Clinton with five hits on the day, had improved the mood of the team in the fifth inning of the second game when he delivered a two-run single that broke a 5-5 tie. The players felt even better an inning later when catcher Murray Henricks led off with a triple and Alex Caldwell delivered a one-out RBI single to make it 8-5.
With 6-foot-6 freshman left-hander Cole Pennock on the mound, the lead seemed safe. After all, Pennock had pitched 15 2/3 consecutive innings against MAC opponents without allowing a run. He increased that total to 17 as he retired the first four batters he faced Tuesday.
It didn’t go so well after that, though.
The next four batters hit singles, including a run-scoring hit by Jacob Black and a two-run, game-tying single up the middle by Cody Meier. Alex Peek followed with a drive to deep center field that Driscoll didn’t read well with darkness setting in, and it went for a triple that put West on top. The Falcons added an insurance run on Nathan Clark’s sacrifice fly.
Driscoll tripled with two outs in the seventh to give Clinton some hope, but that was short-lived as Jordan Chapman grounded out to end the game.
Instead of a split, the River Kings were left shaking their heads and looking back at the third inning, when they squandered opportunities to do a lot more damage.
After West starter Kyle Dittmer retired the first six batters he faced, he hit Henricks with a pitch to open the third. Evan Jackson followed with a single to right field, but freshman Nick Hoefer threw out courtesy runner Nate Harden as he tried to advance from first to third. Jackson advanced to second on Alex Caldwell’s infield single, went to third on a flyout and scored on a wild pitch, then Caldwell made it 3-2 as he scored on Jake Faur’s single. Faur advanced to second on the throw to the plate but was then picked off second by catcher Josh Thiessen.
The outs on the bases came back to haunt the Kings when they opened a three-run fourth with successive singles by Cody Collender, Cody Nolan, Driscoll and Chapman. Had those hits all come in the third, there’s no telling how much damage Clinton could have done.
Still, the offense in the second game was a stark contrast to the opener.
Dorton allowed seven hits, but just one of the two runs against him was earned, and he struck out 10 batters.
“He was crafty, kept us off balance and hit his spots,” Cunningham said.
“He had a pretty good fastball that he could locate and kept us off balance with his curve,” said Driscoll, who had the best hit off Dorton -- a run-scoring double off the top of the right-field fence in the sixth inning.
But, by that time Dorton had a six-run lead to work with.
The Falcons gave him a 3-0 cushion in their first time at the plate. Thiessen hit an RBI double, and Peek delivered a two-run double later in the inning.
“We’re constantly playing from behind,” Cunningham said. (Clinton fell behind 2-0 in the first inning of Game 2, too.)
West’s lead became pretty much insurmountable when Meier belted a three-run home run in the fifth.
Now, the River Kings need to regroup, and there’s not a lot of time left to do it. The regular season ends next week.
“I think my job as coach (now) is less instructional and more just keeping the guys positive,” Cunningham said. “We’re not in a good place mentally.”
DAVENPORT WEST 6, CLINTON 2
Clinton 000 001 1 -- 2 7 1
West 300 030 x -- 6 7 6
Rodney Witherspoon (1 ip, 2 h, 3 r, 3 er, 1 bb, 1 so), Jordan Chapman (5 ip, 5 h, 3 r, 3 er, 4 bb, 1 so) and Jake Faur; Tommy Dorton (7 ip, 7 h, 2 r, 1 er, 2 bb, 10 so) and Josh Thiessen. Multiple hits -- Clinton (Cody Nolan 2, Ryan Driscoll 2); West (Zach Blizzard 2, Thiessen 2). 2B -- Clinton (Driscoll); West (Thiessen, Alex Peek). HR -- West (Cody Meier). RBIs -- Clinton (Driscoll, Faur); West (Thiessen, Peek 2, Meier 3).
WEST 10, CLINTON 8
Clinton 002 321 0 -- 8 12 0
West 210 205 x -- 10 13 1
Jake Simpson (4 ip, 8 h, 5 r, 5 er, 3 bb, 3 so), Cole Pennock (2 ip, 5 h, 5 r, 5 er, 0 bb, 1 so) and Murray Henricks; Kyle Dittmer (3 1/3 ip, 7 h, 5 r, 5 er, 0 bb, 1 so), Tyler Wells (3 2/3 ip, 5 h, 3 r, 3 er, 1 bb, 3 so) and Thiessen. Multiple hits -- Clinton (Driscoll 3, Cody Collender 2, Alex Caldwell 2); West (Blizzard 2, Jacob Black 2, Meier 2, Peek 2, Dorton 2). 2B -- West (Blizzard). 3B -- Clinton (Henricks, Driscoll); West (Peek). RBIs -- Clinton (Driscoll 2, Faur, Chapman, Caldwell); West (Meier 3, Peek 2, Nick Hoefer, Blizzard, Black, Nathan Clark).