As with Ankeny, Cunningham said he will gameplan how to isolate East’s top performers.
“(Assistant coach Bucky) Percuoco and I will pull up the stats (Thursday night),” he said. “You want to look and say who are the one or two kids on the team that can beat us. We’re taking them very seriously.”
Both teams shared one common opponent this year: Cedar Rapids Xavier. East beat the Saints 1-0 in Wednesday’s quarterfinals; the Raiders were uncharacteristically quiet with just five hits in their narrow victory. Clinton won bigger over Xavier on June 18 — 8-3 behind five extra-base hits.
The best way to silence bats, Cunningham added, is with solid pitching. Enter Clinton’s starting pitcher tonight — Jake Simpson (4-1, 4.09 ERA). The junior right-hander started the River Kings’ 10-0 substate win over Dubuque Senior 11 days ago. Simpson wrung up seven strikeouts in the shutout, and Cunningham called it the best outing he’s witnessed out of the player.
He’s anticipating more of the same against the Raiders.
“I’ve talked quite a bit with Jake Simpson,” Cunningham said. “One of the things I was concerned about earlier in the year was he played not to lose. He’s pushed through that notion. He’s confident now. Jake’s rested and ready to go. I think his confidence is high.”
A fast offensive start — a la Wednesday — and a solid bullpen can do wonders for a starter’s confidence, Cunningham added.
“I can tell a kid, ‘Give me your best five innings, Jake,’ knowing I can get some good bullpen relief,” he said.
Don’t expect to see pitchers Driscoll or Wednesday starter Cole Pennock, though, unless the River Kings move into Saturday’s championship. Instead, Jake Faur (who pitched 1 1/3 innings in the Ankeny win), Rodney Witherspoon or Jordan Chapman may get called upon.