By Jon Gremmels
Herald Sports Editor
CLINTON – In Kevin Cunningham’s first season as Clinton High baseball coach, the River Kings surprised opponents and put together a 20-14 season.
This year, opponents probably will expect more from the River Kings, but the Kings expect more, too.
“We’re looking to have a great season,” senior Cody Collender said. Clinton opens the season this evening, when both the baseball and softball teams take on Northeast in Goose Lake. “We lost some good guys, but we have a lot of talent. I’m excited for this season.”
Graduation claimed the Kings’ leading hitter from a year ago, Travis Morehead (.379), and three other lineup regulars -- catcher Adam Ebensberger (.345), shortstop Matt Stumbaugh (.308) and outfielder Matt Judge (.304) – but no other seniors played in more than 10 games. Morehead (4-1, 3.47 earned-run average) and Stumbaugh (3-4, 4.41) also were the two leaders in innings pitched by a wide margin.
Despite the losses, Collender said he isn’t too worried about the team’s hitting or pitching.
“We’ll get a lot of hits and play old-school baseball,” he said. “We’ll have more depth at pitching.”
Collender leads the list of lettermen, which includes five of last year’s top seven hitters.
He batted .364 with two home runs and 29 runs batted in last year after hitting .371 as a sophomore. He also stole 26 bases in 29 attempts.
Also back are Ryan Driscoll, who hit .344 with four home runs and 25 RBIs, Alex Caldwell (.359), Cody Nolan (.320) and Dustin Caldwell (.315). Driscoll is the top returning pitcher. He went 5-1 with a 4.31 ERA last year.
Collender said the individual numbers wouldn’t matter much if they don’t produce wins.
“We’d like to make state, that’s what we talk about,” he said. “We’ve got to have good team chemistry. We can’t get down on ourselves; that’s the main thing. We’ve got to play like a baseball team.”