CLINTON — A pitchers duel for eight innings got away from Clinton in the ninth, and Marion Linn-Mar defeated the River Kings 7-2 in the first round of Iowa Class 4A Substate 4 baseball action Friday night at the Durgin Sports Complex.
Josh Gassmann hit a tie-breaking, two-run single in the top of the ninth inning, and winning pitcher Kirby Kerr delivered the dagger later in the inning with a three-run double.
“I think, other than that last inning, it was a great game,” Clinton Coach Kevin Cunningham said. “The fans got their money’s worth.
“Two pitchers throwing well. Defenses making plays. Unfortunately, it got away from us. That’s baseball.”
Linn-Mar pitcher Josh Strauss held Clinton hitless until the sixth inning, and the River Kings were limited to three hits for the entire game.
Meanwhile, Makai Hart put in his third consecutive strong start on the mound for Clinton. He pitched into the ninth, allowing just five hits and a walk, and striking out eight batters.
“I think both pitchers threw well,” Cunningham said. “The difference in the game was their balls got down and ours didn’t. We couldn’t buy a hit.”
Reese Phillips started the winning rally when he walked against Hart to open the ninth inning.
Johnny Sullivan replaced Hart, moving from shortstop to the mound, and Ben Diestler hit a potential double-play ball that new shortstop Jace Houzenga couldn’t field for an error. A sacrifice moved the runners to second and third, and Gassmann followed with a sharp hit just past the drawn-in infield to score both runners.
After a strikeout, the Lions loaded the bases with a walk and a dropped third strike to bring Kerr to plate with the bases loaded. Kerr worked a full-count, and with the runners going, he cleared the bases with a double to right to make it 7-2.
Clinton got a two-out single from Brady Brunson in the bottom of the ninth but couldn’t score.
The Lions (19-18) struck first, getting a pair of runs in the fourth inning off Hart, who was coming off back-to-back shutouts.
Phillips was hit by a pitch to open the inning and scored on Diestler’s double. Rylan Lechner added another RBI double later in the inning.
Clinton managed to put just three runners on base (two walks and a hit batter) over the first five innings but rallied in the sixth.
Strauss walked Gage Harris with one out in the inning, and Harris stole second. He then scored when Sullivan singled to center field to break up the no-hitter. Sullivan stole second and came in to score on an error to tie the game.
“I was pretty happy with that (rally),” Cunningham said. “I was nervous up to that point, then I had feeling we were going to win the game.”
The River Kings had a chance in the bottom of the seventh.
Jared Simpson doubled with one out, but Strauss struck out Houzenga for the second out and then Kerr replaced Strauss on the mound. The inning ended when Ty Wenzel popped up to Phillips at first base. Phillips dropped the ball, but Wenzel was ruled out on interference.
“No question, we had our chances to win,” Cunningham said. “We just couldn’t get that one hit we needed to win.”
MARION LINN-MAR 7, CLINTON 2
Linn-Mar 000 200 005 — 7 7 1
Clinton 000 002 000 — 2 3 1
Josh Strauss (6 2/3 ip, 2 h, 2 r, 1 er, 3 bb, 6 so, 1 hbp), Kirby Kerr (2 1/3 ip, 1 h, 0 r, 1 bb, 2 so) and Ben Diestler; Makai Hart (8 ip, 5 h, 3 r, 3 er, 1 bb, 8 so, 1 hbp), Johnny Sullivan (1 ip, 2 h, 4 r, 0 er, 1 bb, 3 so) and Ty Wenzel. Multiple hits — Linn-Mar (Josh Gassmann 3). 2B — Linn-Mar (Diestler, Rylan Lechner, Kerr); Clinton (Jared Simpson). RBIs — Linn-Mar (Diestler, Lechner, Gassmann 2, Kerr 3); Clinton (Johnny Sullivan).