There are no guarantees in baseball, but Justin Dorton is about as close to a sure thing as you are going to get.
Dorton, a 2018 Lugoff-Elgin graduate who is transferring from Florence-Darlington Tech and is enrolled and plans to try and walk-on at Newberry College next season, has never lost an American Legion baseball game in 15 decisions.
On Wednesday, the 6-foot-1 lefty threw a 107-pitch complete game 10-2 win against visiting Aiken as he improved to 2-0 on the season for Kershaw County Post 17. The victory, combined with a 6-0 record in 2017 and 7-0 mound mark in 2018 has Dorton off to a 15-0 start since donning the green, black and white P-17 uniform.
In a sport in which superstitions are held virtually sacred, second-year KC head coach Stephen Carmon was almost reluctant to talk about Dorton’s winning ways after Wednesday’s nine-strikeout performance.
“That makes Justin 15-0 in Legion baseball. He’s still never lost a game and, I don’t want to jinx him,” Carmon said. “He’s a great kid and a great competitor.”
Dorton started the season with a 13-3 win over Manning-Santee last Friday in the season-opening first game of the Florence Post 1 tournament. In that five-inning contest, he threw 69 pitches while fanning seven batters and not issuing a walk. In two games, he has worked 12 innings, allowed nine hits with 16 strikeouts while pitching to a 1.75 earned run average.
Making those numbers even more impressive is the fact that Dorton did not pitch at FDTC this past season. The last time he took the mound in a competitive game before last Friday came a 9-6 win over Sumter in the second round of the state playoff series on July 19, 2018.
While most pitchers work every fifth to seventh day, Dorton went 327 days between starts and was no worse for the layoff.
“I wasn’t that concerned,” Dorton said. “I know a lot of pitching is competing. It’s just getting back in the competitive mindset of seeing the other team and wanting to beat them. It’s less about mechanics to me than it is about competing which, I feel, is something I can always do.”
Dorton is not one whose fastball lights up the radar. Instead, he relies on his ability to pitch to spots and understands the situation he faces on the mound even though his heater seems to have a bit more snap to it this year.
“I think the rest did me good,” Dorton said when asked about striking out nine Post 26 batters Wednesday. “I still don’t think I throw the ball quite hard enough to blow it by guys. It was really great pitch calling tonight which kept them off balance and had them thinking.”
Before the game, Dorton said after having seen Aiken’s plate approach in the small confines at Aiken High School Tuesday night, he, KC pitching coach Ross Hough and catcher Brady White discussed Post 26’s tendencies at the plate. Dorton used his first-hand knowledge of Aiken’s approach and parlayed it what pitching at spacious American Legion Park on Wednesday.
“They swing a lot and they try and lift the ball a lot; they play in a good (home) ballpark for that,” he said. “I knew changeup would be a good pitch for me tonight and would be one they would swing on top of. We went with a lot of changeups and a lot of off-speed stuff tonight to try and keep them off-balance and get them to pop the ball up.”
Dorton found himself trailing, 2-1, in a top of the fourth frame in which Aiken had the bases loaded with one out. Had he snuck a peek to his right, he could see action in the Post 17 bullpen with Cam Mitchem at the plate an inning after the hard-hitting third baseman sent a rocket off the fence for a double an inning earlier. This time, Dorton got Mitchem to hit an 0-1 changeup back to the mound. Dorton fielded the ball, fired to White at the plate for the second out before White gunned Mitchem with a throw to first for a rally-killing double play.
Later, instead of taking the credit for making a tough pitch to hit, he fended off the praise which came his way.
“I really think that was a big moment for me,” he said as he returned to the dugout after the game. “Without having pitched for a year, coming back into it and pitching with the bases loaded was one of those moments where I could either lay down or, stay standing.
“I have such a great defense behind me which gives me the confidence to pitch, to compete and give them the chance to hit the ball. We were fortunate to get out of it.”
Throwing 107 pitches on Wednesday was something which, Carmon said, should help propel Dorton and get the southpaw back on track and into a regular routine.
“I told Justin before the season that he was going to pitch a lot,” Carmon said. “He’s had a lot of rest and his arm is rested. He’s such a great competitor, such a hard-nosed kid and he’s just so smart. I never once worry about his showing up ready to play or, his not showing up prepared.
“Even though he did not pitch all (spring) season, I knew he would be good for us.”