CLINTON — Clinton returned home Monday for its first Mississippi Athletic Conference doubleheader of the season. The River Kings had a 5-1 record leading up to their games against Pleasant Valley, including three wins this past weekend at the Fort Dodge Invitational.
The Spartans’ pitching gave Clinton trouble, though, allowing only one run between two games. The River Kings ended Monday night 0-2 in the MAC, losing 5-0 and 3-1.
Pleasant Valley’s Game 1 starter Brock Neuhaus came into the game 2-0, going seven innings in both of his starts, striking out 21, walking six and giving up only one run in his 14 innings. He continued his dominant pitching against the River Kings, going another seven strong innings and taking home the shutout victory.
The right-hander asserted himself right away, retiring the first 11 Clinton batters he saw and facing the minimum through 5 2/3. Clinton second baseman and No. 3 hitter Cody Collender broke up the no-hit bid by Neuhaus with an infield single to short but was thrown out at second trying to advance on an overthrow to end the fourth inning.
Clinton got another baserunner in the next inning when catcher Jake Faur drew a two-out walk, but was stranded at first when the side ended. The River Kings managed only one more hit on the night against Neuhaus when Cody Nolan hit a seeing-eye single between short and third. Nolan, like Faur, was stranded on the bases.
Clinton struck out 10 times against Neuhaus in the first game as Neuhaus had his three-pitch arsenal working and used them all expertly.
The Clinton defense struggled during the first game but saw a gutsy performance from starter Jake Simpson, who kept the Kings in the game despite five errors from the defense behind him. Three of the five runs scored by the Spartans were unearned and the direct result of the River Kings errors, which proved to be their undoing.
“We played fantastic up at Fort Dodge on Friday and Saturday, and I think we came in today flat; the defense was flat,” Clinton coach Kevin Cunningham said. “You can’t make (five) errors in the first game against a good team and expect to win.”
The mental mistakes didn’t stop in Game 2, either, as the defense committed two more errors. Meanwhile, the baserunning early in the game left much to be desired.
In the bottom of the third, River Kings right fielder Evan Jackson was caught in a rundown after getting picked off at second base, but he got a bit of luck on defensive interference that gave him third base. His luck ran out two pitches later when he misjudged a ball in the dirt and tried to take home.
The ball bounced in front of the plate and PV pitcher Tony Clifton flipped it to his catcher, Mike Brown, in plenty of time to get Jackson. Jackson tried to run over Brown, who tagged him out, and the home plate umpire immediately threw Jackson out of the game.
All was not lost for Clinton in the third as Dustin Caldwell drove in his brother Alex on a single, giving the River Kings the 1-0 lead, their only score of the day. The lead for Clinton did not last as PV struck back in the top of the fifth.
Clinton left-handed starter Cole Pennock was cruising through the first 4 2/3 innings, wracking up nine strikeouts before a walk and single from PV’s top of the order, Collin Banks and Brown, put two runners on in scoring position. No. 3 hitter Tanner Ennis waited back on a curve from Pennock and laced it up the middle, driving in both runs and giving PV the 2-1 lead.
“I felt good; I was on my game tonight,” Pennock, a freshman, said of his performance on the mound. “We just have to get out and hit the ball. I was trying my best to shut them down so that we could get through that, but in the end pitching wins games.”
The Spartans added an insurance run in the sixth on a Garrett Duncan sacrifice fly that chased Pennock from the game. Faur came in and finished off the Spartans before any more damage was done and kept Clinton within two runs.
The Clinton offense was unable to back up the overall solid performance from the team’s pitching staff. The River Kings mustered only one run on four hits combined in the two games and failed to get a runner past first base in the first game and only five in scoring position in Game 2.
Clinton hits the road for the next few games, facing off with Linn-Mar on Wednesday with hopes of turning around their fortunes.
“I think they (PV) were on tonight,” Cunningham said. “Up at Fort Dodge over the weekend we hit the top pitcher in the state, but today’s a different day just like Wednesday is going to be a different day, and that’s what we have got to focus on.”
PLEASANT VALLEY 5, CLINTON 0
PV 000 000 0 — 5 7 0
Clinton 000 000 0 — 0 2 5
Brock Neuhaus (7 ip, 2 h, 0 r, 2 bb, 10 so) and Mike Brown; Jake Simpson (6 ip, 7 h, 5 r, 2 er, 1 bb, 6 so), Murray Henricks (1 ip, 0 r, 0 h), and Jake Faur. Multiple hits — Pleasant Valley (Mike Brown 2). 2B — Pleasant Valley (Brown). RBIs — Pleasant Valley (Austin Suhr, Tanner Ennis).
PLEASANT VALLEY 3, CLINTON 1
PV 000 021 0 — 3 4 1
Clinton 001 000 0 — 1 2 2
Tony Clifton (7 ip, 2 h, 1 r, 1 er, 6 bb, 3 so) and Mike Brown; Cole Pennock (5 2/3 ip, 4 h, 3 r, 2 er, 3 bb, 9 so), Jake Faur (1 1/3 ip, 0 h, 0 r, 2 bb, 2 so) and Murray Henricks. RBIs — Pleasant Valley (Garrett Duncan, Austin Suhr 2), Clinton (Dustin Caldwell).