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Cougars stumped by Kenny, Dodgers

DES MOINES - Griffin Michael leaned against a railing at Principal Park in Des Moines Wednesday night, a look of frustration and disbelief on his face.

"I just can't believe it's over," he said. "It's just a shock right now."

Kennedy's bid for immortality ended in the opening round of the Class 4A state baseball tournament, the victim of the extreme heat, humidity and a hot pitcher from Fort Dodge.

Will Kenny came within one out of pitching a no-hitter and the Dodgers trimmed the Cougars, 2-1, to end Kennedy's dream of winning back-to-back state titles.

Cedar Rapids Wilson, now a junior high school, is the only Metro school to win consecutive state titles with crowns in 1947 and 1948. Kennedy was trying to break the 63-year drought and become the second Metro team to pull it off, but Kenny was too tough.

The Fort Dodge senior walked six batters, but the Cougars were 0-for-22 before Austin Christensen singled with two outs in the top of the seventh inning to snap the no-hitter and put runners on first and third. Suddenly, the Cougars had life.

Michael hit a hot smash that got past the Fort Dodge second baseman for a base hit, driving in Terrell Sykes and making it 2-1 as Christensen took third. Kenny was tired and soaking wet, but was determined to finish the game.

"I wasn't going to come out," he said. "They got a hit, but I wasn't going to let them win."

Devon Jacobus, Kennedy's cleanup hitter who slugged 10 home runs this season, stepped into the batter's box, looking for a clutch hit, but Kenny got him to end the game on a soft fly ball to right field.

Kennedy's dream of back-to-back titles was over.

"It's just really tough," said Christensen, "but we just have to focus on all the good things we've done."

Christensen took the mound Wednesday as the winningest pitcher in school history, but he struggled in the steamy conditions and needed a water break at one point when Fort Dodge touched him for two runs in the third inning.

"I felt a little light-headed and I was weak through the whole night," he said. "But that's no excuse. I've still got to try and get the job done."

It was 94 degrees with a heat index of 105 at 7 p.m. in Des Moines. Christensen bent over near the mound at one point, his hands on his knees, prompting Coach Bret Hoyer to pay a visit. They both walked into foul territory, near the Kennedy dugout, and Christensen was given a minute for a drink.

The respite did not solve the problem. Kenny singled to left, making it 1-0, and Sam Edwards hit a sacrifice fly to right field, giving the Dodgers a 2-0 edge after three innings.

Christensen pitched one more inning before calling it a night and moving to right field. He threw 81 pitches in four innings, an unusually high number for the Kennedy ace in a brief period of time, and led to his early demise.

Mark Wilson and Will Gormally began the bottom of the first inning with back-to-back singles against Christensen on fastballs. He switched to off-speed pitches and wriggled out of trouble, but his 89 mph fastball from the 2010 state championship game was nowhere to be found.

"I could tell at the start I didn't have my normal stuff," Christensen said. "It was just like the last couple of games. I threw a lot of hittable fastballs."

The Cougars had their chances. Kenny walked six batters and Fort Dodge made three errors, but the Cougars - who hit a lusty .387 as a team this year - could not break the spell.

"He's a stud," said Christensen. "We faced him earlier this year and we struggled then, too. A lefty, he throws hard, he has a sharp curveball. He was tough to hit."

Kennedy had runners on first and second with nobody out in the sixth inning, thanks to a pair of walks, putting the potential tying runs on base. David Yancey, the No.5 hitter in the lineup, had a chance to make something happen.

Hoyer thought about telling Yancey to bunt, but Yancey hit .364 this season with eight homers and Hoyer let him swing. "He's turned around a lot of fastballs in his career," the coach said.

Yancey swung at the first pitch and hit a grounder up the middle, but he didn't hit it hard enough. Fort Dodge shortstop Wilson ambled over, grabbed the bouncer, stepped on second and threw to first for the double-play.

Yancey expected Hoyer to let him swing in that situation.

"I was pretty sure he would expect me to hit the ball to the outfield," Yancey remarked. "We would have scored two runs if I would have done that."

Yancey pitched two scoreless in relief, keeping the score 2-0 and giving the Cougars a chance to mount a rally. They did, but it was too little and too late.

The Cougars shook hands with the Fort Dodge players, accepted their award for making the state tournament and then trudged toward their locker room, unhappy and a little stunned.

"I just can't believe it's over," said Michael. "We really thought we were going to go deep in the state tournament this year. We knew Fort Dodge was a tough team and we had to play well, but it's just a shock right now. We really thought we would go farther then we did."

The sixth-ranked Cougars retired for the season with a 31-9 record.

"They're hurting, big-time," said Hoyer. "They've been part of a tremendous tradition. I'm proud of them."

Christensen (8-1) suffered his only loss of the season, putting his career record at 29-7. He graduates as the winningest pitcher and most prolific hitter in school history.

Fort Dodge (30-12) advanced to the Class 4A semifinals Friday night.

Sykes, 2b, 4 1 0 0, Christensen, p/rf, 3 0 1 0, Maiers, cr/ph, 1 0 0 0, Michael, ss, 3 0 1 1, Jacobus, 3b, 3 0 0 0, Hayden, pr, 0 0 0 0, Yancey, lf/p, 3 0 0 0, Bell, 1b, 2 0 0 0, Seubert, pr, 0 0 0 0, Ambrosy, rf/lf, 2 0 0 0, Jahlas, cf, 2 0 0 0, Taylor, ph, 0 0 0 0, Benson, dh, 1 0 0 0, Lizarraga, c, 0 0 0 0. Totals 24 1 2 1.

Wilson, ss, 3 0 2 0, Gormally, cf, 2 1 1 0, Arends, 3b, 3 1 1 0, Alstott, rf, 3 0 1 0, Kenny, p, 3 0 1 0, Halligan, cr, 0 0 0 0, Edwards, 1b, 2 0 0 1, Lombard, dh, 2 0 0 0, Peters, ph, 0 0 0 0, Jones, pr, 0 0 0 0, VanderMaten, 2b, 1 0 0 0, Jarrard, lf, 2 0 0 0, Porter, ph, 1 0 0 0, Harms, c, 0 0 0 0. Totals 22 2 6 2.

Kennedy      000 000 1 - 1 2 0
Fort Dodge   002 000 x - 2 6 3

Christensen, Yancey (5) and Lizarraga. Kenny and Harms. W - Kenny (6-4). L - Christensen (8-1). SB - Michael, Wilson.

Last Updated ( Thursday, 28 July 2011 21:25 )  

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