By Scott McNeish
Herald Assistant Sports Editor
CLINTON — Darryl Sexton flashed a 1,000-watt smile and glanced at the scoreboard beyond the left-field wall. Below the "H" shined a number the Clinton baseball program hasn't experienced in almost a decade.
It read zero. No hits.
Clinton's ace fired his first career no-hitter Saturday night to help the River Kings post a 13-1 mercy-rule win over Northeast in the Clinton River King Invitational championship game at Alliant Energy Field.
The River Kings (4-0) won the tournament for the third straight season. They beat Preston in the first game, 13-3, while Northeast (2-2) topped Camanche, 11-4.
"Throwing a no-hitter is a great accomplishment," said Sexton, who walked two and struck out six in five innings. "I was just trying to throw strikes, and my defense behind me played great."
Sexton threw Clinton's first no-hitter since Sean Johnson in 2000.
With a 13-0 lead, Sexton fanned the first batter in the fifth, but the next hitter reached on catcher interference. A wild pitch later in the inning let a run score. Sexton fanned the next batter on three pitches, though, to secure the milestone.
"He was mixing it up good and hitting his spots," Clinton catcher Shawn Winoski said. "He pitched great. It was fun."
Sexton combined a fastball that topped at 81 mph with a sharp breaking ball. He retired 11 of 12 hitters at one point and didn't allow a ball out of the infield.
"He throws hard, and then he has that slider to go with it that's hard to pick up," Northeast shortstop Jordan Howe said. "In our last three games, I don't think we've faced anybody throwing over 70. It's a big difference.”
Sexton, a senior, earned a Class 4A third team all-state nod in 2008. He went 10-2 to help Clinton post a winning season.
"He's one of the top pitchers in the state," Clinton coach Trent Snowden said. "I don't think he had his great fastball today. I don't know why, but he was able to spot his pitches pretty well and stay on top."
Northeast, however, questioned throwing an ace in a game carrying no league significance.
"We consider them throwing him against us a badge of honor," Northeast coach Jeff Howe said. "They've played four games, and they saved him for a little 2A school? They didn't think they could beat us without using their ace, a 4A school. Because we've kicked their (behind) quite a few times in this tournament.
"This is just a tune-up for us. We'll battle on in the conference. Our focus here today was to win the first game, and we accomplished that."
A hamstring injury earlier in the week prevented a marquee pitching matchup between Sexton and Jordan Howe, who has committed to play baseball at NCAA Division II Truman State.
Jordan Howe went 7-4 with a 1.17 ERA last season, striking out 101 batters in 66 innings.
"I was really looking forward to it," Jordan Howe said. "But I wasn't going to pitch a complete game, because we're gearing for our conference. I don't know what Clinton's doing. There's a conference championship that we're going to try to win."
Jordan Howe pulled his hamstring while legging out a double in Friday's loss to Central DeWitt. He ran with a noticeable limp Saturday.
He's considered doubtful for Wednesday's Big East Conference opener against Bellevue Marquette.
"I don't think he'll be able to pitch," Jeff Howe said. "It'll be five days after a pretty bad hamstring injury. He's got a college career coming up, and that's more important than this. We'll see."
Clinton, which has averaged 13.3 runs per game this season, scored four runs in the second inning and five in the third to pull away.
The River Kings loaded the bases in the second against Northeast eighth-grade starter Cole Dickey. Clinton first baseman Austin Krick amped his RBI total to 11 this season with a three-run double that put the Kings up, 5-0.
"Everybody's swinging the bats well," Winoski said. "We're looking for good pitches and hitting them hard, driving guys in."
Indians offense erupts in consolation
In the consolation game, Camanche earned its first win with a 14-4 triumph over Preston.
The Indians (1-4) went 7-for-15 with runners in scoring position against the Trojans (1-3). The bottom three hitters in the order — Shawn Iben, Brandon Mink and Colin Waldorf — went 9-for-13 with six RBIs.
"Finally got some runs on the board," Camanche coach Darryl Cochran said. "That felt good."
Preston, which finished third in Friday's East Central Tournament, started the day well. They took an early 2-0 lead against Clinton, but then things unraveled.
"We're going to be a different team as the season goes on," Preston coach Mark Bormann said. "We just got all our track guys back. We haven't had a full-squad practice yet. Hopefully Monday we'll have everybody at practice for the first time."
Clinton 13, Northeast 1
Northeast 000 01 — 1 0 4
Clinton 245 2x — 13 10 1
Cole Dickey, Mitch Schumacher (3) and DJ Fulton; Darryl Sexton and Shawn Winoski. Two or more hits — Clinton (Austin Krick, Sexton). 2B — Clinton (Jake Mangler, Krick). RBIs — Clinton (Krick 3, Sexton 3, Mangler, Redman, Brent Clausen).
Camanche 14, Preston 4
Camanche 105 113 3 — 14 17 3
Preston 002 000 2 — 4 10 7
Taylor Fisher and Alex Hodge; Lucas Assenmacher, Jason Fedderson (7) and Austin Hughes. Two or more hits — Camanche (Brandon Mink 4, Shawn Iben 3, Jalan Bertrand, Logan Hilgendorf, Jordan Moore); Preston (Jordan Fedderson 3, Assenmacher, Dave Jacobs). 2B — Camanche (Mink 2, Iben, Fisher, Bertrand); Preston (Jordan Fedderson). 3B — Camanche (Bertrand); Preston (Jacobs). RBIs — Camanche (Hilgendorf 3, Waldorf 3, Iben 2, Fisher, Mink); Preston (Alex Hinerichsen 2, Jordan Fedderson, Lance Simmons).
By Scott McNeish