DES MOINES -- Wednesday’s ousting of defending state champion Ankeny ended a little too close for comfort. After Clinton built an 8-0 lead after two innings, the Hawks chipped their deficit to within two runs in the seventh inning.
Ryan Driscoll ended hopes of a comeback, though, shutting the door with three straight strikeouts, and the River Kings escaped, 10-8, their first baseball tournament win in 43 years.
“People who saw that game last night are in their backyard pretending to be Ryan Driscoll,” Clinton coach Kevin Cunningham said a day later. “That’s a great tribute to him.”
He reported the team is still savoring the sweet victory, soaking in all the glory that coincides with a deep playoff run. The River Kings aren’t “cocky, but confident” they have the skills to garner a championship.
The focus now is on tonight’s date with Sioux City East in the semifinals, a game that has a much different billing than Wednesday’s first round. The question against Ankeny was if Clinton’s bats could strike gold against the Hawks’ high-powered aces. The River Kings connected with 10 runs on 11 hits.
The debate looming over the semifinals is which high-octane offense will rule the night.
“They’re a 30-plus win team. If you look at their stats and look at ours, we match up pretty identical,” Cunningham said. “It’s going to be a competitive game for us — the rest of these games are.”
The Black Raiders (31-9) hold slight edges in most offensive categories. They lead Class 4A with a combined .366 batting average (against Clinton’s .329). Regarding on-base percentage (.448 vs. .442), stolen bases (94 to 91) and runs (third and fourth in 4A), the two teams are neck-and-neck.
Comparing top hitters is also a toss-up. Will it be Clinton’s Cody Collender (.429, 41 RBIs, nine home runs, .493 OBP) or East’s Tyler Franko (.421, 20 doubles, 45 RBIs, .497 OBP)? The Kings’ Cody Nolan (.402, 31 RBIs) or the Raiders’ Dom Thompson-Williams (.463, 30 RBIs)? Or will other capable hitters (Clinton’s Dustin and Alex Caldwell, Driscoll come to mind) deliver?