Base hits flew thicker than the skeeters at Dayton Rod and Gun Club's Buckshot Field Monday evening.

Dayton American Legion won a slugfest over Essex, 17-13, as the two teams hammered out 27 hits. And the plethora of base knocks came in a game called on account of darkness after just 5 1/2 innings.

The win gave seven-time defending North-Central District championDayton (7-12 overall, 4-11 league) a 1-1 second-half record and sparked its hopes of placing first in the second round of games this season.

The season is divided into two 13-game halves; if different teams win each half, the title is decided by a one-game playoff.

Towson, with a 6-3 record, appears likely to win the first half. Second-place Dundalk posted only a 6-7 record, but Towson played two ties and didn't play two games, so it needs to win only one of the four unfinished games to claim the first-half title.

Dayton is not intimidated by Towson's better record.

"There isn't a team in this league I've seen that we can't beat," Dayton manager George Bickerton said.

Dayton did not play Towson in the first half but will play the team twice in the second half.

Eight of Dayton's nine starting players had at least one hit and one run batted in Monday. Seven of those batters had at least two hits. Brian Bickerton and Alex Brown each hadthree hits.

The Raiders also had a power surge with three home runs. Brown hit two three-run homers to lead all batters.

His first homer came in the first inning over the left-field fence and gave theRaiders a 3-1 lead.

His second homer came in Dayton's decisive six-run fifth inning and was a tape-measure job to straightaway center field. The homers were his second and third of the season.

Mike D'Andrea went 2-for-4 and also homered deep to left field in the sixth inning. It was his second home run of the year.

Dayton entered thegame with only three homers in 18 games, so the Raiders doubled their home run output Monday.

Brian Egolf, Darin Nelson, D'Andrea, Mike Kelley and Eric Glenn each knocked two base hits. Egolf had a double, single and two RBIs. Egolf also gained the pitching victory after he relieved starter Todd Messner in the second inning.

Egolf pitched 4 2/3 innings, allowing five runs on four hits.

Essex scored nine runs on eight hits and two walks in the second inning to lead 10-3, and the Raiders looked like sure losers.

"But we never let up,"Bickerton said. "We pulled for each other and played hard, and that's what we need to do to win games."

Dayton, which has squandered several games with poor defensive play, made just one error Monday. Essex, 4-12 overall and 1-3 in the second half, made two.

Dayton scored twice in the second inning and twice in the third before taking an 11-10 lead with a five-hit, four-run fourth inning.

Essex recaptured the lead 13-11 with a three-run fifth inning.

Essex used fivepitchers trying to stop Dayton, but none was effective. The Raiders scored in every inning.

Two Raiders reached base every time up. Bickerton had three hits and a walk and Christian Strassner had a single, two walks and reached on an error.

Sixteen Essex batters reached base and 13 scored. Twenty-two Dayton batters reached base and 17 scored.

The Raiders continue their second-half title quest by playing Gaithersburg 295 tonight at Dayton Rod and Gun Club. They also play at home next Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday against Wheaton, Towson and Bethesda, respectively.

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