CLINTON — Cody Collender took his second hit by pitch of the game with class in the sixth inning, tossing his bat back to the Clinton dugout and trotting down to first. On Wednesday night, it seemed all a River King base runner needed to do was make it on to be in scoring position.
On the next pitch, Collender stole second with ease, and on the wild throw from Cedar Rapids Xavier, cruised into third base. Two batters later, Cody Nolan knocked a sac-fly to deep center, scoring a tagged-up Collender for Clinton’s eighth and final run of the night.
An inning later, Collender and Nolan teamed on a 4-6-3 double play to end the game with Clinton on top, 8-3. It capped off a night in which the River Kings found all the right caps and turned around five extra base hits.
“We talked a lot about awareness on the bases,” Clinton coach Kevin Cunningham said. “Looking for opportunities to advance anyway we can. I think we’re up there in the state with stolen bases and extra base hits.”
In fact, Clinton hit its 27th double and 10th triple as a team, totaling 48 extra base hits on the season.
The River King scoring started in the second inning, with Evan Jackson walking to load the bases for Dustin Caldwell. Caldwell -- who led all batters with three RBIs on two hits and a double -- sliced a gapper between the Saints center and left fielders, putting Clinton up 2-0. Austin Driscoll drove in Jackson to add a third run.
Collender led off the third inning, tattooed the right field baseline and hit the gas to take a triple. He was followed up by a Ryan Driscoll base knock, who took home later that inning on a Xavier passed ball at the plate.
Austin Driscoll led off the fourth with another triple, hooking it to right and reaching third base standing.
“We’re really seeing the ball well right now,” Austin Driscoll said. “We knew we had to come out and play. We feel like we’re pretty good competitors. We knew we had to hit today and we did.”
It was all starting pitcher John Gunderson needed to settle in. He started shaky, loading the bases in the first inning, but shrugged it off to retire six of eight batters over the next two innings. Time and again, Gunderson popped batters out, ending his first four innings on outfield flyouts and finishing with only three hits allowed.
“I knew that I was going to give this game everything I had,” Gunderson said, calling it his “big game back” after taking last year off. “Our defense won the game. I believed in my team every time the ball went up. I think we’re just going to move on to bigger and better things now.”
In the sixth inning, Murray Henricks came in to bring home the win during another Clinton jam. Although the River Kings let up three runs, they kept the Saints out of reach by continuing to pad the lead. Since a scoreless first inning, Clinton scored in each frame and had a double or a triple in four separate innings.
“I think we went through kind of a lull in the season,” Cunningham said. “Now, we’re hitting our stride again. This was probably our most complete games from the plate all year.”
The River Kings improved to 13-7 and resume Mississippi Athletic Conference play today in a makeup doubleheader on the road against Davenport Central.
CLINTON 8, CEDAR RAPIDS XAVIER 3
Xavier 000 003 0 — 3 5 1
Clinton 032 111 X — 8 11 2
Nick Drahozal (3 ip, 6 h, 5 r, 5 er, 4 bb, 1 so), Luke Hammerberg (2 ip, 4 h, 2 r, 1 er, 1 bb), Eric Schemmel (1 ip, 1 h, 1 r, 1 er) and Ben Helms; John Gunderson (5 ip, 3 h, 2 r, 2 er, 4 bb, 1 so), Murray Henricks (2 ip, 2 h, 1 r, 1 er, 2 bb) and Jake Faur. Multiple hits — Xavier (Adam Pick 2), Clinton (Austin Driscoll 2, Cody Nolan 2, Murray Henricks 2, Dustin Caldwell 2). 2B — Xavier (Pick), Clinton (Henricks, Nolan, D. Caldwell). 3B — Clinton (Driscoll, Cody Collender). RBI — Xavier (Bryce Grimm, Pick, Mitch Keller), Clinton (A. Driscoll, Jake Faur, Ryan Driscoll, Nolan, D. Caldwell 3).