Heat and humidity might have cost Blake Pennock a chance at a complete game Monday night. But he lasted long enough to help Clinton High move within one win of reaching the baseball state tournament.
Pennock struck out 12 batters over six innings of an 8-5 win against Bettendorf in the Iowa Class 4A Substate 4 semifinal at the Durgin Complex at Eagle Heights Elementary School. The win put the River Kings (14-17) in Wednesday’s 7 p.m. substate final against second seed Davenport Central at Brady Street Stadium in Davenport. The winner advances to next week’s state tournament in Des Moines.
“I think we’re peaking at the right time,” Pennock said. “It’s like the 2005 team (that made Clinton’s most recent state tournament appearance) that didn’t have a great record but peaked at the right time.
The River Kings have won three in a row since losing to Central 15-3 and 6-4 on July 7 — the final games in a stretch during which Clinton lost eight of nine games.
Pennock, who struck out 15 Bulldogs in a 5-4 regular-season loss June 23, had eight strikeouts through three shutout innings Monday. The other out in those frames came when Bettendorf starting pitcher Daniel Sullivan was cut down trying to steal third on one of the strikeouts.
“I was combining my curve and my slider (for strikeouts), whichever I felt more confident with,” Pennock, a senior left-hander, said.
By the time he went out to pitch in the bottom of the fourth, he had a 7-0 cushion to work with.
“That definitely was a big help having more room to work with,” he said.
Pennock played a key role in the first run scoring. He hit a double off the center-field fence with two outs in the second inning. Jake Olalde followed with a single to left field that scored courtesy runner Nick Parker.
Clinton added two more runs — without the benefit of a hit — in the third.
Cody Collender walked and stole second base, then Sullivan walked Adam Ebensberger before exiting. The runners moved up on a passed ball, then Matt Albert threw a wild pitch as he walked Dakota Atkinson on a 3-2 pitch. The ball didn’t get too far behind catcher Ryan Schmitt, but Collender raced home and just beat Albert’s tag.
“I had a big adrenaline rush, and something inside said to go for it,” Collender explained. “It was close, but I was safe. It was a risky play that was worth it.”
Ebensberger, who took third on the wild pitch, scored on a sacrifice fly by Brendon Roggendorf.
Clinton broke it open in the fourth, sending 10 batters to plate and scoring four runs against Gordon Wright, the Bulldogs’ third pitcher. Collender delivered a two-run single to center field on a 3-2 pitch to make it 5-0.
“I noticed they were throwing a lot of offspeed pitches,” he said. “Then he threw a fastball, and I love fastballs, and I got enough of it.”
Collender took second on Ebensberger’s infield hit, and both moved up on a wild pitch. One out later, Collender came in on a passed ball, then Roggendorf beat out an infield hit to score Ebensberger to make it 7-0.
All Pennock needed to do after that was avoid a big inning.
“I wasn’t really worried,” he said. “I was too tired to be worried.”
The Bulldogs chipped away at Clinton’s lead, scoring one in the fourth, two in the fifth and two in the sixth, but Pennock prevented more damage than that. He was helped, too, when right fielder Olalde fielded Wright’s RBI single and the River Kings gunned down JP Flynn trying to score to end the fifth.
“We had a nice talk after the fifth, and he (Pennock) said, ‘I think I can go one more,’ ” Clinton coach Trent Snowden said.
“It definitely takes a toll,” Pennock said of pitching in the 95-degree heat and high humidity. “Toward the end I was getting tired, and I was sweating a lot so the ball was slipping.”
Pennock left after six innings, giving way to his cousin, Seth Pennock, a junior right-hander who earned the save by pitching the seventh, walking two batters and striking out two.
“I didn’t know I’d get that much from Blake,” Snowden said.
In part because he did, though, the River Kings moved one step closer to a trip to the state tournament.
CLINTON 8, BETTENDORF 5
Clinton 012 401 0 — 8 9 1
Bettendorf 000 122 0 — 5 7 1
Blake Pennock (W 3-3, 6 ip, 7 h, 5 r, 4 er, 5 bb, 12 so, 1 hbp, 1 bk), Seth Pennock (S 1, 1 ip, 0 h, 0 r, 0 er, 2 bb, 2 so, 1 wp) and Brendon Roggendorf; Daniel Sullivan (L 1-6, 2 ip, 3 h, 3 r, 3 er, 2 bb, 1 so), Matt Albert (1 ip, 0 h, 0 r, 0 er, 1 bb, 0 so, 1 wp), Gordon Wright (3 1/3 ip, 6 h, 5 r, 5 er, 2 bb, 4 so, 2 hbp, 1 wp), Danny Walters (2/3 ip, 0 h, 0 r, 0 er, 1 bb, 2 so, 1 wp) and Ryan Schmitt. Multiple hits — Clinton (B. Pennock 2); Bettendorf (Nick Downey 2). 2B — Clinton (B. Pennock, Ryan Driscoll); Bettendorf (Walters, Cam Schmid). RBIs — Clinton (Jake Olalde, Roggendorf 2, Cody Collender 2, Driscoll); Bettendorf (Walters, Wright, Schmid, Michael Lintz).