When the Clinton River Kings baseball team opened its 1964 season, it had less than two weeks of drills. However the Bill Lehr-coached squad had 12 returning lettermen to put on the field.
Junior veterans Dan Lawson and Craig McNeil were the top ptiching prospects with a trio of senior lettermen — Mike Eberle, Jeff Reed and Gary Jacobs.
The River Kings had a 15-6-1 record the year before and lost, 4-0, to city rival St. Mary’s to end any tournament hopes. St. Mary’s went on to win the state summer title. Clinton vowed this year things would be different and the River Kings followed that pledge.
“We’ve got plenty of veteran returnees,” Coach Lehr said. “But a lot depends upon our pitching.” Lehr’s big winner in 1963 was Craig Current (7-1) lost by graduation.
The River Kings opened their ‘64 campaign with an 8-3 decision over Bettendorf. The veteran lineup included Barry Fish, Dick Hodges and Mike Eberle. All collected two hits in the 13-hit attack.
That was followed by a 17-0 one-hit thumping of Central DeWitt. McNeil threw the one-hit gem while striking out 10 and walking four. Central’s Alan Kent nicked McNeil for a first inning single.
Clinton carried its 2-0 record to Iowa City High where the Little Hawks snapped the short win streak in the first game of a doubleheader, 4-2. However the Kings got back in the winning column taking City High, 8-4.
Muscatine became the next victim when Lehr’s charges went to the down-river city and slipped past the Muskies breaking a 3-3 tie with two seventh inning runs.
Greg Sander singled with two out in the seventh. Eberle drove him home with the winning run banging out a double. Sophomore Denny Sander singled Eberle home for the two-run decision.
On June 12, Bettendorf returned the favor to the River Kings handing them a 4-2 loss in Riverview Stadium. That loss gave the Kings a 4-2 record and was their last setback of the season.
Clinton won nine games in a row to carry a 13-2 record into sectional tournament play against Wheatland.
The string included a 12-1 blasting of Davenport Assumption. McNeil blanked the Knights until they scored their run in the seventh inning. Lawson pitched three innings and Denny Sander four when Lehr’s squad trimmed Sterling, 7-2, Eberle was 2-for-3 including a bases loaded triple as they topped Dubuque Senior, 12-3. He drove in four runs and scored twice.
Denny Sander broke a 2-2 tie against the Cedar Rapids Legion. He clubbed a triple to score Lawson with the winning run. Clinton slapped out 16 hits while beating Central DeWitt 9-0. McNeil was the winner of a 5-3 conquest of Muscatine.
Bill Jakubsen, D. Sander, Eberle and Fish collected two hits each as Lawson chalked up his sixth win, 4-1 over Assumption. The final pre-tournament victory was a 10-0 decision over Fulton led by a five-run burst in the third inning.
After a one-day rain delay, the River Kings opened sectional play with victories over Wheatland (11-0) and Delwood (6-2). Greg Sander had two hits and Dave Meyers drove in four runs against Wheatland, then added two hits and three RBIs against Delwood.
Clinton St. Mary’s began defense of the Iowa prep title the following night but was edged 1-0 by Bettendorf although Irish pitching ace Larry Brennan tossed a one-hitter.
A 7-1 victory over Calamus sent the Clinton nine into the sectional final against the Camanche Indians.
Camanche pitcher Bernie Vogel turned in a one-hit, 9-0 win over Miles. In the next game, Dan Bolte and Vogel stole home in the sixth inning to beat Bettendorf, 2-0, setting up the sectional showdown against the River Kings.
“Clinton High School defeated Camanche, 3-1, with 2 runs in the top half of the tenth inning for its second sectional baseball title in three years,” wrote Clinton Herald Assistant Sports Editor Osy Gerhard in his story the following day. “But then (Clinton) almost handed the runs back in the bottom half of the inning.”
According to Iowa high school baseball rules, a pitcher may hurl just nine innings in one game. So with the score tied at 1-1 both Clinton’s Lawson and the Indians’ Vogel had to step off the mound. Clinton scored both 10-inning runs before McNeil came on in relief, giving Lawson the victory.
The River Kings saw both runs cross the plate without a hit. Camanche’s Chuck Hellweg walked Fish who stole second while Lawson drew a walk.
Both runners advanced on a wild pitch. The count was 2 balls and 2 strikes on Meyer when Rick Sullivan replaced Helleg. Fish scored on a fielder’s choice and Lawson scored on a balk.
An error, a walk and a second error loaded the bases for Camanche in the last of the 10th. There were two out when a pop fly in front of the plate dropped between two Clinton fielders. A run scored but the Indian batter forgot to head for first and Meyer easily tossed him out to end the game, which nullified the run.
“The Camanche game was really a wild one,” Denny Sander said. “They had a real good team.”
The River Kings followed that with a 7-0 district win over previously unbeaten Lincoln of Stanwood and captured the district championship beating City High of Iowa City, 10-4, although being outhit 11-5. D. Sander scored three runs and G. Sander drove in four as Clinton ran its record to 21-2.
Between district and sub-state play the River Kings beat Sterling, 5-1.
Lehr’s charges stunned unbeaten Keystone, 5-0, in their opening sub-state contest at Monticello. They then put themselves in the state championship game by knocking off Mason City 3-2 in eight innings to win the sub-state crown in LaPorte City when Jim Schneden scored on a throwing error to third.
The River Kings traveled to Ames to play Council Bluffs Thomas Jefferson (T.J.) for the state title.
“They’re probably a very good team,” Lehr said of the Yellowjackets. “But we’ve played some good ones too. We’ll be ready.”
Clinton went into the title game with a 23-2 record and a 19-game winning streak. This game was also delayed a day by rain.
When the game was played, Clinton became the state champion beating T.J., 7-2, running its record to 24-2 and a winning streak of 20 games. The Kings scored first in the second inning, gave up single runs in the second and third, then regained the advantage, 3-2, with two-run fourth.
Sports Editor Bob Fleischer wrote, “The Kings committed five errors and played, perhaps, one of their weakest defensive games and McNeil, admittedly, was not at his sharpest... the runs the Kings needed (four of them) came like a cloudburst in the seventh.”
Denny Sander said: “There were a lot of fans from Clinton there, many of them with cowbells. And I didn’t even get a hit in the title game.
“There were a lot of tough teams around here,” said Sander, a bass fishing partner of former Clinton basketball coach Bob Walker. “Camanche and St. Mary’s were both good and so was Calamus. It spoke volumes for baseball in this area.
“It was a great year, a super year. The whole town was behind us all the way.”
George Kampling is the former longtime sports editor of the Clinton Herald who writes occasional columns and still helps out around the office a few hours each week.