By Brenden West
Assistant Sports Editor
According to Cole Pennock, it's a nice luxury knowing that Ryan Driscoll has your back.
"I'd trust him with any game," Pennock said. "Any situation; any time."
Pennock, Clinton's starter for Round 1 of Friday's Class 4A Substate game against Western Dubuque, finished with a pretty nice day for himself. He only gave up two hits, a run and three walks on four strikeouts. Through the first five innings, Pennock was shutting out the Bobcats.
But in the bottom of the seventh, after Pennock walked the leadoff batter to put the tying run at the plate, River Kings coach Kevin Cunningham made the call to remove his season-long ace. Driscoll inherited the game with no outs, a runner on and Clinton's season on the line in a 3-1 ball game.
Just like that, a game that took two hours to get started ended in a blur. Driscoll struck out the Bobcats' seventh, eighth and ninth batters swinging, earning the River Kings a date with Dubuque Senior on Monday.
"It's win or go home right now," Driscoll, a senior, said. "This is possibly the last baseball season I'll ever play. I'm not going to let us lose."
The first player to rush Driscoll was Pennock. The senior gave the freshman his first postseason win.
"It feels great. Words can't even describe how I'm feeling right now," Pennock said. "I never even dreamed of this. There's no better feeling."
Fifteen minutes before game time, a sketchy Clinton sky opened up at Eagle Heights Elementary School, flooding the field. Although the storm lasted roughly 10 minutes, it took nearly an hour to dry out the playing surface. Another storm rolled through, and there were some debates about calling the game.
Both teams and umpires agreed to play on, and the first pitch was thrown at roughly 9 p.m. for a 7 p.m. start time.
The River Kings jumped ahead in the first. Jake Faur knocked a base-hit to center; Rodney Whiterspoon came in as the courtesy runner and moved to second on Cody Collender's infield hit.
Two batters later, Driscoll came through again and delivered a liner to center, scoring Witherspoon from second.
Clinton has the potential to play a high-powered game, and it looked as though things were off to another high-scoring night. The River Kings put up two more runs in the second inning, making it 3-0 after loading the bases and scoring Evan Jackson and Alex Caldwell.
Western Dubuque pitcher Cody Reimer settled in and retired 15 of 18 batters after the second. On the opposite end, the Bobcats struggled to figure out Pennock.
"For us, it's about getting guys on and moving them up," Bobcats coach Casey Bryant said. "We weren't able to put any pressure on their defense. I think that part of it was both teams are so strong defensively."
The tension tightened when Western Dubuque loaded the bases in the sixth inning with one out. Cody Kramer knocked a sacrifice fly to Jackson in right to put the Bobcats on the board, 3-1. Although Jackson's throw-out attempt missed run-scorer Dylan Kramer, catcher Faur was on his toes and sniped a stealing Sean Buerger at second for an inning-ending double play.
The play saved a potential game-tying rally by the Bobcats. It was one of several web gems that erupted the home crowd.
"We spent a lot of time working on our defense," Cunningham said. "We've talked about getting more to the ball, more aggressive. They performed well."
Then, in the seventh, after Pennock gave up his second walk in as many innings, there was no doubt who the skipper was turning to.
"Pitching again won the game. (Driscoll) has done such a good job for me out of the pen all year. He's lights out when he comes out of there," Cunningham said.
"It was a really good coaching move on his part," Bryant said. "I didn't really expect him to do that."
Since Senior beat top-seeded Pleasant Valley 3-2 (12 innings), Clinton will now host the Rams instead of traveling for Round 2 of substate play. Monday's winner will play Bettendorf in the Substate 4 final on Wednesday.
CLINTON 3, WESTERN DUBUQUE 1
Clinton 120 000 0 — 3 6 1
W. Dubuque 000 001 0 — 1 2 2
Cole Pennock (6 ip, 2 h, 1 r, 1 er, 3 bb, 4 so), Ryan Driscoll (1 ip, 0 h, 0 r, 0 bb, 3 so) and Jake Faur; Cody Reimer (7 ip, 6 h, 3 r, 2 er, 5 bb, 6 so) and Dylan Kramer. Multiple hits — Clinton (Ryan Driscoll 2). RBIs — Clinton (Driscoll, Dustin Caldwell, Cody Nolan), WD (Cody Kramer).