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Demons hold serve at home

L-E, Dorton blank error-prone Bulldogs, 5-0, in season opener

Posted: March 9, 2017 10:44 a.m.
Updated: March 10, 2017 1:00 a.m.
Tom Didato/C-I

JUSTIN DORTON WORKED SIX innings of shutout baseball in picking up the mound win in Lugoff-Elgin’s 5-0 victory over Camden Monday night at Optimist Field.

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Who needs a coach sitting in the press box to align defenses when those on the field have a pretty good idea as to what’s coming?

Knowing their opponent nearly as well as they know their own team, Lugoff-Elgin’s Randy Stokes and Camden head baseball coach Denny Beckley played a proverbial chess match from their respective dugouts as their squads battled on the diamond in Monday’s regular season opener at Optimist Field.

The end result was Stokes and the host Demons making the most of their five hits to score as many runs while Justin Dorton and Hunter Coleman combined to blank the Bulldogs, 5-0.

The win extended the Demons’ mastery over their cross-river rivals to nine straight victories on their home field.

As the two head coaches and good friends met at home plate after the game, Stokes tried to soften the blow by telling Beckley how all five Demon runs were of the unearned variety. Beckley could only shrug his shoulders and say when you don’t put anything on the board, you can’t win games.

The win was the second shutout in three days registered by the L-E pitching corps. Last Saturday, the Demons blanked Ridge View, 10-0, in the final game of the Carolina Ale House Classic to finish with a 2-2 mark in the preseason event.

Dorton, a junior, bounced back from a rough start against Dreher in the CAHC opener to work six innings of five-hit baseball. The lefty fanned three and walked one while being aided by a defense which turned a pair of nifty double plays behind him. Coleman would come on to work a perfect seventh to sew things up.

Not to be outdone, Camden right-hander Mikael Nelson got the starting nod and went 4.2 frames while allowing five hits, striking out four with a walk. The senior would give way to Gus Allen and then, team ace Devin Beckley, who pitched the sixth and final inning.

With Dorton on the mound, Stokes said he can line up his defense accordingly for a pitcher who hits his spots and can help dictate how the game will be played.

“A lot of times,” Stokes explained, “the approach that people take in hitting against Justin is to try and hit the ball in the right center gap. That’s the approach (Camden) took early. They fouled a lot of balls off over our dugout and it wasn’t because of the velocity of the pitches, it was because they were trying to do a certain thing at the plate because Justin’s ball runs from right-handers. 

“Baseball-wise, when you get balls that are running from you, you want to try and hit them in that right-center gap. We just try to defend that side. Fortunately, we have a pretty good fielder in J.C. (Legrand) over there at second base and Josh Boone runs really well (in right field) so it really worked out for us.”

L-E played error-free baseball as opposed to the five miscues in the field committed by the visitors, who went 1-3 in the Pee Dee Invitational and who have now lost their last four games.

Beckley later tipped his hat to Dorton.

“I think he’s a great pitcher. He’s a smart pitcher who pitches to his spots really well,” said the 19th year Bulldog boss. “A lot of the spots that he hits, when you do make contact, there is not a lot of opportunity to really hit the ball in holes. 

“Justin does a tremendous job of pitching to his strengths. They position their defense really well to his pitching. Our leadoff batter in the game, Lindsay Pierce, that’s a base hit most times but their right fielder is playing shallow and we hit it right to him.”

In a game which breezed along and was played in a tidy hour and 45 minutes, both Dorton and Nelson took turns in shutting out the opposing offense. The Demons posed a threat in the second as they had runners on second and third with two gone only for Nelson to get an inning-ending strikeout.

The first of two Camden scoring threats came in the third which opened with a single to left from catcher Brady White, who was lifted for courtesy runner Kyle Currie, only to be left hanging at third as Dorton got a comebacker to end the frame.

L-E finally broke the ice in the fourth as Legrand beat out a two-out infield single. Josh Ayer followed by hitting a sinking liner to center which John Bailey laid out for in trying to come up with the catch which went to the wall for an RBI triple. Nelson avoided further trouble by getting a called third strike to keep the deficit at one run.

Used mainly in a relief role, Nelson came up big in his first varsity start and drew the praise of Stokes.

“Mikael Nelson was very good,” said the 20th year L-E boss. “One thing he didn’t do was walk us. He threw a lot of strikes, changed speeds and worked both sides of the plate. He frustrated our hitters. He frustrated our coaches.

“We felt like we should have made some adjustments but we didn’t. Maybe, this will be a game that we can learn from and take what we’ve learned and move forward from it. But (Nelson) did exactly what he needed to do.”

Beckley said he hoped Nelson would do exactly what he did in order to give the Bulldogs a chance to get the win.

“We felt like he would kind of do that. He’s a guy who hits his spots really well and mixes speeds really well. He comes from different arm angles and frustrates batters,” Beckley said of Nelson.

“We knew they were going to put the ball in play and we had to make sure that we made plays behind him. Unfortunately, we didn’t make as many as we should have.”

After not being burned by a pair of second inning errors, Camden was not as fortunate in the fifth as the Demons tacked on three more runs in an inning which opened with Boone’s double the fence in left center. A dropped fly ball off the bat of Bradwin Salmond killed what could have been a potential double play at second base as the hosts had runners on first and second with no outs.

After Chase Galloway’s sacrifice bunt put runners in scoring position, Beckley ordered an intentional walk be issued to Clemson commit Chase Roberts to load the bags while setting up a potential double play. The strategy worked like a charm as Nelson got Jake Laffin to hit a grounder to shortstop but the force play at second was botched as both Boone and Salmond scored on the error while Laffin later scored on Legrand’s two-out single to make it 4-0.

“That’s kind of where we are right now,” Beckley said of his team’s problems in the field. “We’ve had several defensive miscues in our first five games of the year. We feel confident that we’re going to get things fixed and that we’re going to be a good team. Right now, though, we’re really struggling defensively and hitting the ball where they’re not.”

The Bulldogs’ last chance to break the shutout came in the sixth as Pierce and Nick Butler had consecutive one-out singles. But those went by the boards when Dorton got a ground ball hit to Salmond at shortstop, who flipped to Legrand who stepped on the bag and fired to first for the second 6-4-3 double play of the night for the hosts.

L-E iced the cake with a run in the sixth as Boone drew a leadoff walk and later scored on a two-out passed ball.

Legrand had two of the five L-E hits on a night in which Stokes repeated a mantra which he used to open his interview.

“Mikael (Nelson) frustrated us early and he just kept going. We were just fortunate enough to put enough balls in play to make things happen,” Stokes said.

“Our kids, our hitters, were frustrated and that’s all because of what Mikael was doing to us. He frustrated us. I though J.C. (Legrand) had some really good at-bats and that Josh Boone had a big at-bat and Bradwin (Salmond) had a big at-bat but a lot of our kids are walking away from here frustrated tonight.”

Butler and White had two hits apiece for the visitors who are struggling in all areas. When asked what changes may need to be made to get things going in the right direction, Beckley took a short deep breath before giving an answer.

 “I wish I knew the answer to that … that’s a good question,” he said. “I’m really not sure what the right thing is. We’ve mixed our lineup a little bit, here and there, to try and find the right mix. 

“In our last three games, we’ve scored two runs so whatever I’m doing, it’s not working. I have to make sure we continue with our plan. We believe in our plan and, hopefully, my guys, my decisions and their execution are going to get in sync, sooner or later.”

 

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