DES MOINES — Following Friday's 6-1 state semifinal loss to Sioux City East, it was hard to find a Clinton player without at least misty eyes. Some were outright bawling, some found it tough to swallow.
For all they'd accomplished — going to state despite being seeded third in their substate bracket, upsetting top-ranked Ankeny in the quarterfinals, winning a tournament game for the first time in more than four decades — the crash following the high was especially hard.
"I'm just going to miss this team, these seniors. They're so great," sophomore Evan Jackson said through a thick throat, wiping his eyes. "I'm just starving to get back to this. We wanted this one so much, and ... I'm just really going to miss these guys, you know."
The River Kings certainly left their mark on the tournament. As it turns out, Principal Park — Des Moines' host site for the baseball finale — left Clinton with a few shots to remember.
Such as when Alex Caldwell nearly dazzled and definitely scared the River Kings faithful with his hard crash into the left-field foul wall going for the ball. Or when in the next inning, Jackson laid down a bunt and was pegged straight in the hip.
Both players wound up finishing the game, though they were still a little banged up afterward.
"I had a beat on the ball," Caldwell said. "It turns out manmade objects were in the way. I didn't even think about it when I was going for it. That's what it takes to come out here and play winning baseball."
Jackson said: "I didn't know where the ball was coming from. It stung a little, but we all knew we had to go all out to do this. It's win or go home."