Dayton's 18-and-under American Legion baseball coach George Bickerton was hospitalized Monday in preparation for surgery yesterday.
His team, which includes his son Brian, responded Monday with an emotion-charged 14-4 victory over Essex, a team that was battling for the second-half league lead with a 4-2 record.
Brian Bickerton slammed three hits and drove in five runs to lead the Dayton 10-hit barrage at the Dayton Rod and Gun Club's Buckshot Field. The Raiders also benefited from seven walks and six Essex errors.
Bryan Egolf and Damian Krauss combined to pitch a five-hitter lTC and strike out 10 Essex batters. Egolf pitched four innings, allowing four hits, four runs, four walks and striking out six. He picked up his third win against three defeats.
Krauss pitched two scoreless relief innings while allowing two hits. The game was called after six innings due to darkness.
Emotion meant more to Dayton than the standings. The Raiders have a 3-5 second-half record and are virtually out of the running for that title. But as of Monday, Dayton still had a shot at winning the first-half title.
Dayton, 6-4 in the first half, needed a win yesterday in a make-up game against Towson. And the Raiders also need to win a make-up game tonight against Parkville in order to tie Dundalk for first place and force a one-game playoff to determine the first-half champ.
The winner of the first half then plays the winner of the second half in a three-game playoff July 31 to Aug. 2 to determine the North-Central champion and state tournament representative.
"We needed this game to get us back into a winning frame of mind for Tuesday," said Todd Messner, one of Dayton's best pitchers. Dayton had lost a non-league doubleheader Sunday to Cissel Saxon and an important first-half league make-up game to Dewey Lowman Saturday.
Messner, who played first base Monday, was ejected in the third inning for chewing tobacco. A three-day suspension goes with that ejection. It stung the Raiders because their pitching staff already is depleted from a long season. The team has had only one day off in the past month.
"I've chewed tobacco in a lot of other games, and no one ever said anything," Messner said. "He [the umpire] didn't give me any warning. He asked me to open my mouth. Then he told me to get rid of it. After I tossed it on the ground, he told me I'm out of the game."
Essex went on to score all four of its runs after two were out in that third inning, as Egolf, distracted by the ejection, gave up three walks and two doubles.
But Dayton still led, 7-4, and added six more runs in the bottom of the third inning on just two hits -- both two-run doubles by Bickerton and Chris Leinauer. Three walks and two Essex errors provided the other base runners.
Dayton had scored three runs in the first inning on a double by Mark Trecannelli, a walk by Egolf, an RBI single by Bickerton, an RBI double by Eric Glenn and a double play that scored a run. Bickerton leads the team with a .461 average. Glenn is second at .382.
The Raiders scored four times in the second inning on singles by Bickerton, Darin Nelson and Leinauer, a sacrifice fly by Dave Prestiani and walks to Trecannelli and Messner.
Dayton's final run scored in the fourth inning on a double by Trecannelli and an error.
Dayton sent 25 batters to the plate in the first three innings. Essex used four pitchers to try to stop Dayton.
Dayton plays at home tomorrow against Raveio and Friday against Dundalk.