By Tom Schultz
The old statement, “What you can do, I can do better,” applied to Wednesday night’s matchup between the Clinton River Kings and visiting Davenport West Falcons.
On a night when the River Kings were celebrating their seniors, they traded off the lead with the Falcons numerous times before West took the lead for good late and went home with the 9-8 win in a non-conference high school baseball game.
Clinton started the scoring first, getting out to an early 1-0 lead in the first inning, thanks to a perfectly placed bunt single from Cody Nolan down the third-base line that scored Alex Caldwell. Moments earlier, Caldwell had streaked around the bases for a triple in the gap between right and center.
The River Kings added another run in the second when an error at first allowed Evan Jackson to scamper home, but that run only tied the game. The half-inning before, West put together two runs against senior starter John Gunderson.
Gunderson walked the first two batters of the inning, which ended up hurting Clinton as both of them scored. The first run came around on a sacrifice fly from Falcons pitcher Kyle Dittmer. The second run crossed the plate on a single from ninth-place hitter Tyler Hoth.
The Falcons tacked on two more runs, breaking the tie and taking a 4-2 lead, the next inning. An error at shortstop allowed the two runs to score, and another hit put runners in scoring position and forced Clinton coach Kevin Cunningham to go to his bullpen for Jake Simpson. Simpson promptly got the next batter to fly out to left to end the inning.
“What I wanted to do tonight was combine two things: Try and get a couple kids in that haven’t pitched a lot and give a couple guys an inning or two in preparation for substate,” Cunningham said.
Simpson cruised through two more innings, holding the Falcons scoreless and hitless, keeping Clinton in the game and allowing the offense a chance to take the lead once more. Clinton threatened in the fourth with the bases loaded but was unable to push a run across the plate until the fifth inning against Dittmer.
The first two Clinton batters of the fifth were retired, but Ryan Driscoll woke up the bench with a single that was followed by another single from Jordan Chapman before Jackson’s single got the scoring started. Jackson’s hit went to right-center, which Driscoll easily scored on, but an errant throw from the center fielder allow Jackson and Chapman to move into second and third safely. Catcher Murray Henricks stepped to plate next with a single already under his belt on the night and proceeded to smack a double to the gap that scored both Jackson and Chapman to give Clinton the 5-4 lead.
“(I) had a great night, probably one of my better nights that I’ve ever had. I feel that I’m just stroking the ball right now,” Henricks said.
“I’m counting on Murray being my full-time catcher next year,” Cunningham said. “He’ll be a junior, and I think he’s got some good experience this year, and I’m excited to see him coming around with the bat toward the end of the year.”
The lead was short-lived though as senior Trey Franks was tapped to pitch the top of the sixth and was able to record only one out before being pulled. Two walks and a hit batter ended Franks’ short outing as Jake Faur was called in to finish the inning with the bases loaded and one out.
The first batter to face Faur, Zach Blizzard, promptly hit a single down the third-base line that tied the game at 5. Faur struck out No. 3 hitter Josh Thiessen, but center fielder Jacob Black dealt the River Kings a nasty blow with a two-run double. That was followed by a two-run single from Cody Meier that turned out to be the difference in the game. At the end of the inning, the River Kings saw themselves down 9-5.
Held scoreless in the bottom of the sixth, the River Kings got a rally-killing catch from Driscoll in center that kept the game within reach. With a runner on first, Hoth sent a sinking line drive into left-center field that looked as if it was going to get down for a hit. Driscoll saw the ball off the bat and was off to the races, going full bore and laying out to make the catch for the second out of the inning. His throw to first to double up the runner was just a hair late, but he saved the inning for Clinton as Faur struck out the other two batters.
Clinton kept the theatrics coming in the bottom of the seventh, working two walks in a row from Dittmer. A two-out RBI single from Henricks breathed a bit more life into the offense that got a little luck when the Falcons left fielder misplayed a fly ball from Faur that allowed two more runs to score, closing the gap to 9-8.
That was all the River Kings could muster, though, as the game ended on a circus catch by the shortstop, who was all turned around on a popup in short left field.
Clinton returns to action Friday, hosting Western Dubuque in a 7 p.m. substate first round game at Eagle Heights Elementary School, with Cole Pennock taking the mound.
DAVENPORT WEST 9, CLINTON 8
West 022 005 0 -- 9 9 3
Clinton 110 030 3 -- 8 9 3
Kyle Dittmer (7 ip, 9 h, 8 r, 6 er, 4 bb, 2 so) and Josh Thiessen; John Gunderson (2 2/3 ip, 5 h, 4 r, 03 er, 2 bb, 1 so), Jake Simpson (2 1/3 ip, 0 h, 0 r, 0 bb, 2 so), Trey Franks (1/3 ip, 0 h, 3 r, 3 er, 2 bb, 0 so), Jake Faur (1 2/3 ip, 4 h, 2 r, 2 er, 0 bb, 4 so) and Murray Henricks. Multiple hits -- West (Zach Blizzard 3, Jacob Black 2, Tommy Dorton 2); Clinton (Henricks 3). 2B -- West (Black); Clinton (Henricks). 3B -- Clinton (Alex Caldwell). RBIs -- West (Blizzard, Black 2, Cody Meier, Dittmer, Tyler Hoth); Clinton (Cody Nolan, Evan Jackson, Henricks 3).