Clinton sweeps FDSH baseball

The Clinton baseball team traveled four hours to play a doubleheader against Fort Dodge on Friday.

Once they got settled in, the River Kings felt right at home.

Clinton humbled the defending Class 4A state runner-up in their ballpark to open the FDSH Invitational, plating 27 runs in a sweep of the Dodgers.

Scores were 16-7 and 11-1 in favor of the River Kings (4-1 overall).

New head coach Blake Utley’s home debut went south in a hurry as the Dodgers (3-2) labored through a pair of lopsided setbacks at McNeil Field, where the program has posted a 56-17 record in the previous four seasons combined.

”They took it to us,” Utley said. ”Obviously there are plenty of things we did wrong that need to be corrected, but the bottom line is they hit the ball extremely well and were the aggressor basically (all evening long). Give credit to Clinton for that, because after the long bus ride here, they could’ve been flat or ill-prepared. Instead, we were.

”They punched us in the mouth and we just stepped away. This is our first taste of adversity, so now we get to see how the guys respond.”

The River Kings, who were 20-13 overall last season, got to FDSH ace right-hander Tyler Vaughn early and often in game one. Clinton plated a pair of runs in the first inning and three more in the third, as senior Cody Collender got his big day started with a double and a two-run home run.

Vaughn, who was 10-1 with a 2.31 earned run average in garnering all-state honors as a junior in 2012, allowed four earned runs and six hits in just three innings of work.

Junior JC Hatcher – 6-0 with a 2.27 ERA last season – didn’t fare much better, surrendering four runs in relief during Clinton’s eight-run sixth that put the contest out of reach. Twelve River King batters hit in the frame, as a 5-3 advantage ballooned to 13-3.

Collender delivered a two-run single in the sixth, and designated hitter Jake Simpson socked a grand slam.

The Dodgers had plenty of chances in the early going, but they stranded five runners on base in the opening two frames. The missed opportunities allowed River King freshman left-hander Cole Pennock to settle down, as Pennock retired the side in order in three consecutive innings after the rocky start.

”We had (three runs, six hits and a 3-2 lead through two), but it could’ve been more and who knows what direction the game would’ve gone had we been able to score a few more,” Utley said. ”Our zero-strike approach at the plate wasn’t good at all. With a (20-mile per hour wind blowing out to left-centerfield), I think we got a little over-aggressive and started swinging for the fences instead of executing and working to our strengths.”

Senior Keegan Gormally hit a two-run homer for FDSH, while senior Devon Harms went 2-for-4 with two runs scored. Sophomore Austin Halligan, senior Parker Van Zyl and Hatcher added two hits each.

The nightcap followed a similar pattern, as the Dodgers squandered early opportunities and Clinton broke open a close affair with six runs in the fifth and three more in the sixth to turn a 2-1 advantage into a mercy-rule victory.

Collender singled and homered to continue his tear. He was intentionally walked with two outs in the fifth, and the River Kings followed that up with six runs and six hits before Fort Dodge finally retired the side.

Gormally had only given up two runs and six hits up until that point.

”Of all the pitchers we used, Keegan had the most command of his pitches,” Utley said. ”He did a good job really until they strung together those hits (in the fifth).”

Jordan Chapman had an RBI single and a three-run homer in the win. Simpson, a junior, scattered seven hits and just a single run against the Dodgers, who received two hits from Nate Sunken and doubles by Hatcher and Tommy Halligan.

”I just don’t feel like we were ready to play physically or mentally, and that’s on me,” Utley said. ”We made costly defensive mistakes, didn’t hit our spots (on the mound), weren’t patient at the plate – it was a combination of things that we have to clean up if we want to compete at the level our program has come to expect (in the future).”

FDSH pitchers walked 13 Clinton batters. The River King staff, meanwhile, didn’t issue a single free pass in 13 innings of work.

Collender was 6-for-8 with two homers, six runs scored and five driven in for the day.

Fort Dodge takes on Sioux City East (4-1) at 6 p.m. here tonight to conclude the two-day invitational. Clinton faces Ames at noon.