Following Monday night's 6-3 loss to Baltimore Highlands, the young Dayton Raiders American Legion baseball team began thinking about next year.

The defeat dropped Dayton to a 3-6 second-half record. With just four games left to play, Dayton's hopes of finishing first in the second half has been all but eliminated.

The second-half champion will play first-half champion Towson in a one-game playoff to determine the North-Central District champion. The winner of that playoff then advances to the state tournament in August. Dayton has won seven straight district titles but never a state title.

Towson was 5-2 in the second half, and was leading the district entering Monday night's action.

Baltimore Highlands improved its second-half record to 5-3 in its first season in the league. Itwas 4-9 in the first half.

"The players have already begun talking about who is back next year, so that's a good sign," first-year Dayton manager George Bickerton said. "If we can keep this team togetherwe might win it (the district) next year."

Dayton had only one player, Mike D'Andrea, return from last year's team. This lack of experience created a serious vacuum that resulted in Dayton losing many close games.

"We had high hopes but just haven't had the kind of season we hoped for," Bickerton said.

Only four players will lose eligibility next year because of age. They are D'Andrea, Darin Nelson, Alex Brown and Christian Strausner.

Monday night at Dayton Rod and Gun Club, all six Baltimore Highlands runs scored with two outs. Theyscored two in the first inning, two more in the third and another two in the sixth.

Starting Dayton pitcher Brian Egolf had a frustrating game.

After retiring the first two batters in the first inning, Egolf walked a batter. The next hitter reached first base after swinging at and missing a third strike. The pitch bounced off the plate and hopped over the backstop, allowing the batter to reach first base.

The next batter hit an infield pop fly that no one took charge of. The ball dropped behind Egolf for a run-scoring single.

Baltimore Highlands' Brian Brewer, who went 3-for-4 with three RBI, singled to center for an other run, and Dayton trailed 2-0.

Brewer's two-out double drove home two more runs in the third. Egolf struck out theside in that inning but allowed three hits. Egolf struck out nine batters in the six innings he pitched, while walking four and giving upeight base hits.

When Egolf kept his pitches low, he dominated. When the pitches came in high, he was hit hard.

Egolf also struck out the side in the sixth, when Baltimore Highlands scored its last two runs. A two-run double by Butch Partin was the crucial hit.

MikeMiller relieved Egolf and pitched a three-up, three-down seventh inning.

Offensively, the game also was frustrating for Dayton.

TheRaiders had seven hits, five walks and a hit batsman but left eight runners on base and were victims of two double plays.

If not for D'Andrea's three-run homer in the fifth inning, Dayton

would have been shut out.

D'Andrea also had a lead-off triple in the second inning, but was later thrown out at the plate trying to score on a pop fly caught by the Baltimore Highlands' second baseman in shallow right field.

Dayton also threatened in the first inning when Mike Kelley and Egolf singled with no outs. A pop out and a double play ended that threat.

Dayton left the bases loaded in the third inning, andleft two more runners on base in the fourth inning, for a total of seven stranded runners in four innings.

The lack of a clutch base hit has plagued Dayton all year.

Egolf's pitching record dropped to4-3.

Dayton was coming off a big 4-0 win last Friday over league-leading Towson.

Brian Bickerton pitched a four-hitter in that rain-delayed, five-inning game. He struck out eight and walked five.

Playing with the minimum complement of nine, Dayton scored twice in the first inning and twice in the fourth inning.

Bickerton and Todd Messner knocked in the first two runs. Egolf got the rally started with a triple. Mark Trecannelli and D'Andrea contributed singles and Chris Leinauer walked.

A single by Leinauer, a double by Messner anda walk to James Cheng loaded the bases in the fourth inning. Strausner drove in a run with a walk. And Eric Glenn hit a sacrifice fly to make it 4-0.

Glenn, hurt in the first inning, showed courage by continuing to play. He received a spike wound -- which later took two stitches to close -- to a finger on his glove hand while tagging out asliding runner. Dayton would have forfeited had Glenn not been able to play.

That loss was just the second one of the second half for Towson.

The Raiders play Dewey Lowman Thursday at Dayton.

"We still have a chance to finish over .500 for the second half," Bickerton said.

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