Four swings for 10 quick runs and one quick outfielder to save who knows how many more — that's the way Davenport Central made it to the Iowa high school baseball state tournament.
Even though Dakota Atkinson's three-run home run in the sixth inning put a charge into his Clinton team, the River Kings came up short Wednesday night..
Davenport Central smashed three two-run home runs and one grand slam, and right-fielder Mike Cendrowski robbed Clinton of a chance to regain the lead early as the Blue Devils won the Iowa Class 4A Substate 4 championship 13-7 at Brady Street Stadium.
"I can't think of anything negative to stay about this team," Clinton coach Trent Snowden said of his club that finished 14-18. "We had a good run in the tournament."
Outside the other dugout, Central coach Jay Ryan had plenty of good things to say about the Blue Devils, who are headed to Des Moines for the fourth time in six years.
"I'm so happy for this group of 12 seniors," Ryan said as his eyes started becoming moist. "This is the largest group of seniors I've had, and this is the nicest group of seniors I've had."
And it was an all-too-powerful group of seniors as far as Clinton was concerned.
All four home runs came from seniors and the three pitchers who combined for 13 strikeouts — nine with runners in scoring position — were seniors, too.
Each home run ripped at the River Kings' hearts. The final one, a two-run shot to left field by Blake Moe in the seventh inning, followed Ryan Cartee's two-out RBI single and created the final margin.
It came just moments after Atkinson's drive to left brought Clinton within 10-7 and injected a spark into his team.
Central (25-11) had seemingly broken open the game when Nate Rausch belted a grand slam in the top of the fourth inning to give the Blue Devils a 10-4 lead.
Still trailing 10-4 in the bottom of the sixth, Clinton got a rally going.
Sophomore second baseman Cody Collender (2 for 4) started it with a single to left field. Adam Ebensberger followed with an infield single, and Atkinson stepped to the plate.
"I came up against (pitcher Tony) Bakeris, and he throws smoke," said Atkinson, a junior first baseman who finished 3 for 5 with four RBIs and three runs scored. "I was sitting dead-red fastball, but he didn't throw me one. Then I sat back on a curve, and it flew."
The 1-2 pitch he hit flew right over the left-field fence and cut the gap to 10-6.
"After they hit the grand slam, we were down on ourselves," Atkinson said. "When I hit that home run, it put some spark in the team."
It prompted a trip to the mound for Ryan, who replaced Bakeris with Moe, also a senior. He was in trouble immediately, walking Brendon Roggendorf, giving up a hit to Ryan Driscoll (2 for 3) on the next pitch and then throwing a wild pitch to put runners on second and third.
"We swept them in a doubleheader but won the first game only 6-4 when we scored two late, so we expected a close game," Ryan said. "They kept coming back at us."
Moe then settled down and struck out Blake Pennock, Jake Olalde and Matt Stumbaugh to douse Clinton's comeback hopes.
Denying the River Kings was something Cendrowski, Central's right fielder, had done early in the ballgame.
The River Kings had answered Central's first shot after starting pitcher Driscoll pitched his way out of trouble with just one run scoring after the first three Blue Devils reached base in the top of the first.
Clinton came right back with two runs off Rausch, getting a leadoff single from Collender, a sacrifice, an RBI single from Atkinson and a two-out RBI single from Driscoll on the next pitch after a wild pitch moved Atkinson to second base.
Kyle Franklin put Central back on top with a two-run, opposite-field home run over the 329 sign in right-center in the second, and then Cendrowski came up big in the bottom half of the inning.
With two runners on, two outs and a 3-2 count, Ebensberger hit a long fly to right-center. It didn't have quite the distance of Franklin's ball, but it looked as if it had a chance to be at least a two-run double that would put Clinton back on top.
Instead, Cendrowski raced into the gap, reached up and made the running catch to end the inning.
"Cendro probably made the defensive play of the ballgame on the warning track," Ryan said. "It was a key play. He plays hard; it's the only way he plays. That's a big play."
Atkinson, who was watching from the on-deck circle, said: "That ball with the short field, that could go over. I thought it would drop in for sure. It could have changed the game."
The importance of the play was magnified when Atkinson led off the third inning with a single up the middle. Had Cendrowski not made the catch, and had Atkinson followed with the hit in the second, Clinton might have been looking at a 5-3 lead instead of a 3-2 deficit.
The Blue Devils greeted Cendrowski with a hero's welcome as he came back to the duguout.
Then Central went out and tacked on three runs, including a two-run homer by TJ Meyer to right-center.
Clinton got two runs back in the bottom of the third when Blake Pennock's two-out single scored Atkinson, and Pennock eventually came around to score after a wild pitch, an error and another wild pitch (the Blue Devils threw seven of them in the game).
But once again, Central answered.
Seth Pennock relieved Driscoll on the mound and walked three batters in two-thirds of an inning.
That prompted Snowden to call on right fielder Blake Pennock, who was coming off a 100-plus-pitch outing Monday in the substate semifinal win against Bettendorf, to take the mound.
"He's our best guy," Snowden said of bringing in the left-handed senior on a 98-degree night. "It's a situation where we had to do it. To their kid's credit, their kid came through."
Did he ever.
Rausch, another right-handed-hitting senior, went the opposite way and drove Pennock's 2-1 pitch over the right-field fence for a grand slam.
"We've preached all year that they're pitching away, hammer the ball to the right side and good things will happen," Ryan said.
In the end, more good things happened for Central's seniors than the five River Kings who were on the field for the final time: Matt Morrow, Alex Hovey, Olalde, Boomer Brunson and Blake Pennock.
But the two wins in the postseason also created some optimism for the Clinton players who will return next season.
"We peaked at the right time," Atkinson said. "A lot of teams didn't expect us to do anything. Driscoll (three) and Collender (six) led us in home runs, and they're sophomores. It should be interesting next year."
DAVENPORT CENTRAL 13, CLINTON 7
Central 123 400 3 — 13 14 2
Clinton 202 003 0 — 7 10 0
Nate Rausch (2 2⁄3 ip, 5 h, 4 r, 4 er, 2 bb, 3 so, 2 wp, 1 hbp), Tony Bakeris (W 7-2, 2 2⁄3 ip, 4 h, 3 r, 3 er, 2 bb, 5 so, 3 wp), Blake Moe (1 2⁄3 ip, 1 h, 0 r, 0 er, 2 bb, 5 so, 2 wp) and David Mampre; Ryan Driscoll (L 5-2, 3 ip, 7 h, 6 r, 6 er, 2 bb, 3 so), Seth Pennock ( 2⁄3 ip, 0 h, 3 r, 3 er, 3 bb, 1 so), Blake Pennock (1 1⁄3 ip, 2 h, 1 r, 1 er, 0 bb, 2 so), Alex Hovey (1 ip, 2 h, 0 r, 0 er, 0 bb, 1 so), Jake Olalde (1 ip, 3 h, 3 r, 3 er, 0 bb, 1 so) and Brendon Roggendorf. Multiple hits — Central (Rausch 2, Mike Cendrowski 3, Moe 2, Bakeris 2); Clinton (Dakota Atkinson 3, B. Pennock 2, Cody Collender 2, Driscoll 2). 2B — Central (Mampre). 3B — Central (Cendrowski). HR — Central (Kyle Franklin, TJ Meyer, Rausch, Moe); Clinton (Atkinson). RBIs — Central (Bakeris , Franklin 2, Meyer 2, Bryan Christiansen, Rausch 4, Ryan Cartee, Moe 2); Clinton (Atkinson 4, Driscoll, B. Pennock).