CLINTON -- With the Clinton River Kings up 4-0 in the third inning, Ryan Driscoll took his lead from third base. Across the diamond, Murrary Henricks bolted for second base, drawing Dubuque Senior catcher David Janes into an attempt to snipe him.
Driscoll sprinted home. Second baseman Mike Zelinskas -- realizing the Rams were caught in a Clinton double steal -- whirled the ball back to Janes.
Driscoll and the catcher collided; the ball squirted to the backstop. The baserunner knelt briefly by his now injured foe (Janes finished the game after being examined by Senior staff) before dusting himself and trotting back to the Clinton dugout, his team up 5-0.
That was the closest Senior came to stopping the River Kings’ meticulous small-ball attack Monday. Clinton bunted and squeezed, beat out throws and stole bags. When Driscoll scored, the River Kings had already amassed three hits that didn’t leave the infield.
The early lead was enough for pitcher Jake Simpson to settle in, and after six innings Clinton earned a showdown with Bettendorf in the substate finals behind a 10-0 win.
“When you have a three-run lead ... I’m comfortable throwing it to the outside, being a little more risky,” Simpson said. “Our offense was really amazing. That’s what really helped me win the game.”
There was plenty of familiarity headlining Monday’s rematch. Clinton played Senior to a 9-1 win roughly two months ago. Both teams trotted out the same starting pitchers -- Simpson versus Tyler Moldenhaur of the Rams.
The end result, too, turned out to be another rehash, treating home fans to River Kings ball at its finest -- high-scoring with a hefty dose of dominant pitching. The team played small ball early, power ball late and tight defense throughout, eliminating the Rams three days after they upset No. 1 seed Pleasant Valley.
“I don’t think that had much to do with us being tired or anything like that. It’s just hard to win if you don’t score any runs,” Senior coach Tim Felderman said. The Rams went toe-to-toe with the Spartans before delivering a 12th-inning walk-off victory late Friday. Their win allowed Clinton to host a second substate game despite being the third seed.
“We had a lot of confidence; I felt pretty good going in that we could hit them,” Clinton coach Kevin Cunningham said.
Nos. 1-9 in the Clinton lineup each tallied a hit, totaling 13 as a team. Defensively, whenever Simpson found himself in a jam, he induced grounders and the field performed. Senior put seven runners in scoring position but plated zero.
“We had solid execution and timely hitting,” Cunningham said. “To go with, obviously, outstanding pitching ... if we continue to play like this I’m confident we can beat anybody in the state. Best game I’ve seen Jake pitch in two seasons.”
Simpson said, “I was never worried about them hitting because I knew my offense was going to support me.”
With bases loaded in the top of the second, Jordan Chapman opened the scoring when he came home on a passed ball. Two pitches later, Dustin Caldwell cleared the bases with a two-run triple to left. He put Clinton up 4-0 on Jake Faur’s RBI squeeze bunt; Faur reached to notch Clinton’s second of three infield hits in the inning.
With Driscoll’s run in the third, Simpson breathed easier with a five-run lead and a steady defense behind him. When Senior threatened in the bottom of the third with two runners on and one out, Simpson got Sam Noel to ground to short for a fluid 6-4-3 inning-ending double play.
When Austin Clemens reached scoring position on a leadoff double the next inning, Simpson sent down three straight batters, two on strikeouts.
The River Kings made things even easier on the righty with a five-run, six-hit sixth. Wary of Clinton’s small ball, the Rams committed two errors that inning, facilitating River King scores.
“I just saw the ball really well. It was like a beach ball out there,” Dustin Caldwell said. “We saw them earlier in the year, and we knew their pitching was low.”
He finished with two RBIs, two runs and two extra-base hits, leading a cast of big offensive performers. Faur, Cody Nolan and Cody Collender each had multi-hit games with five River Kings batting in runs.
Now the focus turns to Bettendorf with a state berth on the line.
“We seem to play Bettendorf very well,” Cunningham said. “They have very good pitching, but fortunately we’ve been able to hit it well in the past.”
During the teams’ Mississippi Athletic Conference doubleheader June 10, Clinton split with the Bulldogs despite posting 18 runs on the day. The River Kings finished 8-10 in the MAC; Bettendorf was 12-6, the No. 2 seed in the Substate 4 bracket.
“If you look at the games we’ve lost, we’ve been in every game,” Cunningham said, adding he’s had confidence all season that his team can make a deep playoff run.
The substate final will be played in Bettendorf at 7 p.m. Wednesday. As with Monday night, the home team will be determined on a coin flip.
Cunningham said he planned to use substate Round 1 winner Cole Pennock as his starting pitcher for the contest.
CLINTON 10, DUBUQUE SENIOR 0
Clinton 041 005 -- 10 13 0
Senior 000 000 -- 0 7 4
Jake Simpson (6 ip, 7 h, 0 r, 0 bb, 6 so) and Jake Faur; Tyler Moldenhauer (2 ip, 5 h, 4 r, 3 er, 2 bb, 1 so), Sam Noel (3 ip, 6 h, 5 r, 3 er, 3 bb, 4 so), Austin Bradley (1 ip, 2 h, 1 r, 0 er, 0 bb, 1 so) and David Janes. Multiple hits -- Clinton (Dustin Caldwell 2, Jake Faur 2, Cody Collender 2, Cody Nolan 2), Senior (Mike Blake 2, Jase Grant 2). 2B -- Clinton (D. Caldwell, Ryan Driscoll), Senior (Austin Clemens). 3B -- Clinton (D. Caldwell). RBIs -- Clinton (D. Caldwell 2, Faur, Collender, Jordan Chapman, Evan Jackson).