The Dayton Raiders' hopes of winning an eighth straight North-Central District American Legion baseball title grow dimmer with each loss.

Wednesday evening, the inconsistent Raiders endured another we-could-have-beaten-them-but-didn't loss at the Dayton Rod and Gun Club.

Gaithersburg No. 295 won, 4-0, as the Raiders offense again failed to back up starting pitcher Brian Bickerton.

Bickerton has givenup just six earned runs over his last two starts but Dayton has scored only one run for him. The Raiders lost, 3-1, to Dewey Lowman June 28 when Bickerton again pitched well enough to win.

Last Monday, in a game played between Bickerton's two starts, Dayton scored 17 runsto beat Essex.

After finishing the season's first half with a 3-10 record, Dayton had hoped to make a strong showing in the second half. If different teams win each half, the title is decided by a one-game playoff. Towson ranked first and Dundalk second in the first half.Winning the second half is mandatory now if Dayton hopes to hang on to its title.

Wednesday's loss dropped Dayton's second-half recordto 1-2, with 10 games to be played. Dayton is 7-13 overall and 4-12 in its league.

Gaithersburg pitcher Chris Graham held Dayton to three hits while walking two and striking out nine.

Mike Kelley was the only Raider to have much luck off Graham, who is 6-2 and Gaithersburg's best pitcher.

Kelley went 2-for-3, including a booming double to center, the hardest-hit ball of the night off Graham.

Grahamshowed a good fastball and a decent curve, but he retired many Dayton batters on high fastballs out of the strike zone.

Darin Nelson, batting left-handed, stroked Dayton's only other hit, a single up themiddle. For Nelson, who normally bats from the right side but recently started switch-hitting, it was his third straight hit batting left-handed.

Only in the seventh inning did Dayton put more than one runner on base. That happened when Kelley singled and Brian Egolf walked. But Mike Miller, who recently joined the Raiders, fanned for the third time to end the game.

Gaithersburg touched Bickerton for seven base hits and he walked five. Even though his effort was a bit below his best pitching, on many nights it would have been good enough to win.

Bickerton was upset that the home plate umpire would not give him the lower part of the strike zone.

He is the type of pitcher who has a good, but not overwhelming fastball, so he needs the low strike call on his breaking balls to be his most effective.

Even with the smaller strike zone, Bickerton still managed to fan 11 batters. He walked five and hit Kevin Carpin in the head. Carpin continued in the game.

Gaithersburg scored twice in the second inning on a single, two wild pitches, a walk and a booming triple by Cliff Elgin to right field. The walk was the only one of Bickerton's five walks that scored.

Gaithersburg added a third run in the fifth inning on back-to-back doubles. One double was a bloop hit and one was slugged deep to center.

Gaithersburg added an unearned run in the sixth on a hit batter and a throwing error by catcher Nelson on a bunt.

Thestrong arm of right fielder Mark Trecannelli pulled Bickerton out ofa jam in the seventh. The first two batters walked. Then Trecannellicaught a fly in right and threw out a runner at home for a double play.

Gaithersburg evened its record at 9-9, good for fifth place inthe Montgomery County League. The top four teams in that league participate in a playoff at the end of the season to determine its state tournament representative.

Bethesda leads that league at 16-3 withCissel Saxon second at 14-3, Gaithersburg No. 104 third at 12-5 and Wheaton fourth at 8-5.

The Raiders face their toughest week of theseason starting tomorrow when they take on Wheaton at Dayton Rod andGun Club.

They also are at Dayton Tuesday against Towson and Wednesday against Bethesda before ending the week Friday at Towson.

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