Each time his pitchers would return the mound, Lugoff-Elgin head coach Randy Stokes went to his pitching coach, Jeremy Ray, to find out where Camden’s big sticks in the order were in relation to that inning.
The task for Camden boss Denny Beckley was not as difficult.
On a night in which Camden out-hit the host Demons by an 8-2 count, it was the Bulldogs who came out on the short end of a 4-3 decision Wednesday night.
Camden senior catcher and Erskine College signee Christian Flick had more hits than L-E did as a team as he smacked three singles and reached base all four times from the two hole in the batting order.
Five of the Dogs’ hits on the night came from their first four batters with leadoff man Nick Butler and cleanup hitter Will Abbott collecting a hit each. L-E was able to shut down Devin Beckley, the number three man in the CHS order.
For the Demons, they received singles from Garrett Cassidy and John Bradley, who were penciled in at seventh and ninth in the order. Both singles came in the hosts’ pivotal three-run second frame.
For Stokes, whose team improved to 3-1 on the season, trying to keep the upper half of the Bulldog order in check was a main priority for starting pitcher Justin Dorton and reliever, Brock Robinson, the latter of whom worked the 2.2 innings to earn his second save.
“Those guys are proven varsity hitters,” Stokes said of Camden’s three returning starters in Flick, Beckley and Abbott. “We kept talking to J. Ray about where we were in their lineup and when were they coming back up again. We wanted to know what inning they would come up to bat again if we got these other guys guys out.
“Justin went out there in one of the middle innings and I told him, ‘OK. Here come your guys. You have to pitch right here and make sure that you hit your spots.’
“Those guys are really good hitters. We were just fortunate enough to get them out.”
It was another tough night at Optimist Field for Denny Beckley whose team has now lost six straight games in the West Wateree. While there have been tougher defeats for he and the Bulldogs, the way this one played out perplexed the CHS skipper more than most others.
While out-hitting the hosts by a 4-to-1 margin, Camden had two runners picked off at first base by Dorton, committed three errors in the field while leaving a combined three runners in scoring position in the final two innings, including ending the contest with runners on first and second. While some of those were new problems, an early season bugaboo came back to haunt the visitors.
Working from the left side, Dorton fanned four batters --- all in a row in the second and third innings --- while Robinson, a right-hander who has signed with USC-Lancaster struck out five Bulldogs. Of the nine punch outs, five were called third strikes. In six games, Camden (4-2) has gone down on strikes 56 times.
Denny Beckley said his team was its own worst enemy in this, the first of three meetings this season between the two rivals. He later went through his teams’s defensive and offensive miscues.
“We booted the ball. I don’t know how many of those led to runs but it was, at least, two,” he said of his team’s litany of mistakes.
“We got picked off twice at first; we had four base runners in the first five innings and two of them got picked off. We have no business getting picked off in those situations. I can understand, maybe, the first one because it was the first time we saw the move. Then, in the fifth inning, we got the leadoff batter on when we’re down 4-0, and get picked off again. It’s amazing.
“We had too many called third strikes. You have to put the ball in play. Strikeouts have been our nemesis so far this year and they were definitely again for us tonight.”
Dorton, a crafty, strike-throwing machine, was staked to a three-run cushion when the Demons got to Camden starter Brandon Dow for a trio of runs in the second.
A Chase Roberts leadoff walk got the home side going. With one gone and Roberts on second, a low throw to Abbott at first base allowed Josh Ayers to get aboard on the throwing error. Roberts never slowed down on the play and circled third and scored the game’s first run without a throw to the plate.
Cassidy followed by lining a single down the left field line. When the throw to third was late to get Ayer, Cassidy landed on second as L-E had runners in scoring position with one gone. A walk to Jay Lynch loaded the bases for Bradley, whose single to center drove Ayer in with the second run. When Robinson was hit by a pitch with the bases still jammed, it allowed Cassidy to stroll home with the third run in what looked to have all the makings of a huge inning.
Dow, however, righted the ship and would get a pair of pop-ups to get himself out of further trouble.
Camden’s offense was stymied by Dorton who allowed a single in each of the first two innings but helped himself with a pickoff in the opening frame before getting a double play ball after Abbott led off the second with a single to center.
Stokes said the pickoff move is a new weapon in Dorton’s arsenal.
“(L-E assistant coach )Zack Rabon has been working on that move with Justin,” Stokes said. “Justin didn’t have a real good move last year and he’s been working real hard to try and hold runners close and to tray and control the running game this year.”
Dorton (2-1) fanned the side in the third and worked a scoreless fourth, his last full inning of work.
“They did a good job of minimizing the damage in the early part of the game,” said Denny Beckley of his team’s inability to get things going in the early innings.
L-E tacked on a fourth run in the fourth which started with Lynch’s working Dow for a walk and being bunted to second by Bradley, which ended Dow’s night in favor of Mikael Nelson. The junior righty got a ground ball out before another error on a Zack Branham grounder allowing the eventual winning run to come home in the person of Lynch.
Dow’s line score read 3.1 innings of work, two hits two earned runs, a strikeout and three walks.
“I love Brandon to death,” Beckley said, “but he wasn’t quite as sharp tonight as when we saw him pitch last week. He’s frustrated with how he played tonight. Hopefully, he can learn from it and make himself better for the next time.”
Dorton lasted into the fifth which opened with a William Cobb single. Cobb was replaced by a pinch-runner who was picked off before Dow drove a one-out double to left center to close the book on Dorton in favor of Robinson. The L-E closer would fan the next two batters to keep the shutout intact through five innings.
Camden broke through in the sixth, scoring three runs on as many hits.
Connor Newman greeted Robinson with a leadoff single to left. Nick Butler was then hit by a pitch. Flick’s infield single loaded the bags with no outs for Devin Beckley whose grounder was booted for an error which brought Newman home. With one out, Cobb laced a two-run double to right center as CHS closed the gap to 4-3 while having runners on second and third.
Robinson was up to the challenge, though, as he got a comebacker off a two-strike liner off the bat of Parker Gogan for the second out before a ground out to second ended the inning.
Camden stayed within a run thanks to two perfect innings thrown by Gogan who struck out half of the six batters he faced as the Dogs’ third pitcher of the night. Gogan’s relief stint kept the door open for a CHS comeback.
With two gone in the seventh, Butler kept Camden’s hopes alive by drawing a walk off Robinson. Flick followed with a single to left before Robinson ended the game by getting a called third strike.
“He stayed poised, which was key,” Stokes said of Robinson’s relief work and getting out of two late-game jams. “They had some big excitement. Denny and those guys had momentum which had jumped into their dugout late in the game. We’re real proud of his poise and what he did in going out there and battling for us.”
Denny Beckley said his team was unable to make a push which would get them over the top.
“We were right there (in the sixth) with runners on second and third and one out in an RBI situation,” he said. “Gogan did a great job in that at-bat of fouling pitches off. He made good contact and if the ball is hit two or three feet to the right of the pitcher, it would have gone for a base hit and we would have scored a run there.
“That’s the game of baseball, though. We just have to minimize our mistakes and we’re on the positive side of things and have a one-run lead instead of being at a one-run deficit.”
After the close escape, Stokes said the only issue he had with his team was they were not able to put more distance between themselves and the Bulldogs in the early stages of the contest. He said Camden’s pitching had a lot to do with that, though.
“That’s our game,” Stokes said of making the most of their two hits. “We don’t have a lot of guys who can hit doubles and things like that. We have kids who have to have quality at-bats and we had quality at-bats early but did not have quality at-bats late. We took advantage of what they gave us.
“I thought our kids did a good job with strike recognition; that’s what we have to do. We have a young team that is not capable of hitting balls in the gaps and out-hitting people. We have to scrap, defend and we have to pitch.”
Ending the night with a called third strike, Denny Beckley said, was a microcosm of his team’s offensive woes at this early stage of the season.
“We did not have a good two-strike approach tonight and we’ve been talking about this a lot,” said Beckley whose team travels to meet A.C. Flora in tonight’s Region 4-AAA opener.
“I don’t want to beat a dead horse and for it to become more of a mental thing for our guys but we have to put the ball in play. We’re having way too many called third strikes. We, somehow, have to come up with a better plan at the plate when we have two strikes on us.”