The key word this year for the Dayton Raiders, six-time defending North-Central District American Legion baseball champions, is "new."

The team has a new coach, new sponsor, new uniforms and a new scheduling arrangement with Montgomery County that should make for a more competitive season.

The team jumped off to a fast start Memorial Day weekend when it finished second in a 16-team tournament that included teams from Maryland and New Jersey.

The Raiders won three of its four games, losing the championship game to Annapolis, 15-7.

"This is a very versatile team that showed me it can hang together when it gets behind," said Coach George Bickerton. Bickerton, 53, replaces a strong coachingteam of Steve Walker and Marvin Whittaker, who led the Raiders to a 178-58 record over the past five seasons.

Bickerton is a former college baseball star at George Washington University and is best-knownas commissioner of the 160-team Howard County Adult Softball League for the past 18 years.

His son, Brian, a star pitcher for Centennial High this spring, will be one of the top players on the Raiders. He pitched a five-hitter in the opening game of the Memorial Day Tournament Saturday and beat Wheaton Lumber, 4-3.

Brian Egolf (Atholton) and Todd Messner (Mount Hebron) combined to beat Gaithersburg, 4-2,in the second game Sunday. Then, Messner pitched a seven-inning complete game to beat Cheverly, 4-2, on Monday morning.

Mike D'Andrea (Glenelg) started the championship game Monday afternoon with relief help from Matt Drummand. Other pitchers on the team are Alex Brown (McDonogh), Mike Kelley (Mount St. Joe), Mark Trecannelli (Atholton) and James Cheng (McDonogh).

The team has at least two players at every position. Bickerton plays shortstop, as does Joe Goldberg (Glenelg). The Raiders have Greg Short (Centennial), Cheng and Eric Glenn (Mount Hebron) available at second base.

"We may move some of our more talented infielders to the outfield," Bickerton said. "Glenn playedsome center field during the tournament."

At third base is Trecannelli. Brown and D'Andrea are catchers. Others on the team include Darin Nelson (Howard) and Chris Leinaur and Christian Strassner (Mount Hebron).

The North-Central District consists of Dayton, Towson, Dundalk, Essex, Parkville, Dewey Loman and Baltimore Highlands.

Dayton will play each of those teams twice instead of four times as in past years. In addition, Dayton will play each of the seven teams in the Montgomery County District twice for a total of 26 league games.

All of those games will count toward deciding the North-Central District championship.

"We're hoping to play about a 50-game schedule by scheduling weekend games and getting into a July 4 tournament," Bickerton said.

The team, now sponsored by the Howard County Youth Program, opens its league schedule tomorrow at Baltimore Highlands.

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