Clinton sophomore uses teammate's tip to hit title-clinching double
If Clinton's sophomore third baseman did it like he knew what was coming, it's because he did—thanks to some inside information from senior Gavin North.
"He told me that Jones was doing a little rotation with his glove when it was a fastball," Kruckenberg said of the pointer he got from his third baseman here Tuesday, while catcher Jordan Conway quickly visited Jones at the mound. "I just watched for that, and he did it. I saw the fastball, and I was ready to jump on it."
Kruckenberg's towering drive caught the stiff wind that rolled in during the seventh-inning stretch. As Clinton fans rose to their feet, the shot short-hopped the left-center fence, just beyond the reach of left fielder Jake Jensen and center fielder A.J. Bernstein, both running full steam.
Zach Wisowaty scored from second base, sending the Cougars (16-4, 12-3 Rock Valley South) and their faithful into frenzy as they set the school record for wins in a season on Senior Night, while clinching a title tie.
Turner (16-4, 11-4) won the South Division last season, the first year the Rock featured two separate divisions. It was the Trojans' eighth conference championship in 10 years, whereas Clinton hadn't won one since sharing it with Big Foot in 2004.
The teams will meet again on Monday at Turner, where the Trojans will try to earn a title tie with Clinton.
"We've still got work to do, because we don't want to share with them. They haven't shared with us in the past," Clinton coach Scott Cernek told him team afterward. "We're not done, and I know the hunger is still there."
Wisowaty, a left-handed-hitting shortstop, set the table for Kruckenberg with one out by drilling a line drive to deep center that rode the jet stream over Bernstein's head before skipping over the fence in dead center for a ground-rule double.
Aaron Roth earned a 92-pitch, complete-game victory by bouncing back from allowing a first-inning run and pounding the strike zone. The right-handed sophomore struck out four, walked none and scattered six hits.
"I was really ready to get it over with," Roth said. "I was just trying to throw strikes, because my defense was playing great behind me and making plays."
Jones struck out five, walked three and allowed seven hits in taking the loss. He matched Roth's efficiency in the last four innings and helped himself to a 1-0 lead in the top of the first.
The Trojans' No. 3 hitter drove in his catcher, leadoff man Jordan Conway, with one away in the first. The Turner senior stayed back on a low off-speed pitch and hit it into right center for a sliding double. Conway reached on a chopper between short and third on the first pitch of the game before moving up on a Sean Burns sacrifice bunt.
Roth refused to be fazed.
"I always get stronger as I get through the game," Roth said. "When the first run came across, I knew they weren't going to score again."
"I really don't think Aaron knows what pressure is," Cernek said. "But that's a true champion."
Clinton got even at 1-1 when second baseman Mitchell Cernek used a head-first slide to narrowly score on a wild pitch with two outs in the third. The leadoff-hitting senior drew a walk before Roth chopped a double down the right-field line with one out to put Cernek at third.
"I've dreamt of being a conference champ one day," a beaming Roth said afterward.
His dream became reality as Kruckenberg's walkoff hit sailed into the left-center alley. As for Kruckenberg, he recalled the one thought in mind as he watched the moon shot ride the wind.
"We just won conference," Kruckenberg said.
CLINTON 2, TURNER 1 (8)
Turner (ab-r-h-rbi)— Conway, c, 4-1-1-0; Burns, 2b, 3-0-0-0; Jones, p, 3-0-1-1; Jensen, rf, 3-0-0-0; Bernstein, cf, 3-0-1-0; Hall, 1b, 3-0-1-0; Reece, lf, 3-0-2-0; Jacobs, 3b, 3-0-0-0; Andrews, ss, 3-0-0-0. Totals: 28-1-6-1.
Clinton (ab-r-h-rbi)—Cernek, 2b, 3-1-1-0; Wisowaty, ss, 3-1-1-0; Roth, p, 3-0-1-0; Kollasch, rf, 4-0-1-0; Kruckenberg, 3b, 4-0-1-1; North, lf, 3-0-0-0; Brandl, c, 3-0-2-0; Ruosch, 1b, 3-0-0-0; Risseeuw, cf, 3-0-0-0. Totals: 28-2-7-1.
Turner 100 000 00—1
Clinton 001 00 01—2
E—Beloit Turner 0, Clinton 0. LOB—Beloit Turner 5, Clinton 6. 2B—Jones, Bernstein, Wisowaty.