CHILLICOTHE — When Dakota Dodds is pitching as masterfully as he was Saturday afternoon, Clay is really, really tough to beat.
The junior left-handed hurler threw six innings of four-hit baseball, striking out five and issuing only one free pass in the Panthers’ 6-0 shutout win over Chesapeake at VA Memorial Stadium — the first game of a twin bill.
“Dakota was on and when he’s on the mound, we always have a good chance to win,” Clay coach Marc Cottle said. “We made enough plays and hit the ball pretty well. [Chesapeake] has been playing really good baseball. The last five or six games, they’ve beaten good teams. We had a good game, overall.”
Dodds’ offense gave him plenty of run support, being patient at the plate and turning in quality at-bats. The Panthers scored three in the bottom of the first inning — ultimately more than all they’d need — and tacked on one in the fifth and two in the sixth.
Clay Cottle led that charge, finishing 1-for-3 with a triple, a run and an RBI. Brad McCleese logged a two-run single in the first, Dodds was 1-for-3 with an RBI, Evan Woods drove in a run, and Reece Whitley scored twice and drove in a run.
However, as smooth as the first contest went, the Panthers (14-2) suffered a setback in the second.
Facing Manchester, Clay surrendered seven runs in the top of the second inning, putting the game out of reach early. The Greyhounds built upon that lead before going away with a 12-2 win, souring the Panthers’ first game victory.
“We weren’t ready to play,” Cottle said. “I told the boys after the game that the game of baseball, if you’re not humble, will quickly humble you. That’s the first time that’s happened to us this year. Manchester is really improved this year. Give credit to them. We just didn’t get the breaks.”
In the loss, one where Clay used four different pitchers, the Panthers managed seven hits but left six runners stranded on the base paths.
Garrett Beegan was 2-for-2 with an RBI while McCleese and Dodds both tallied a base hit and scored a run. Cottle, Whitley and Jaden Jessee all had base hits as well.
The weekend doubleheader was a tune-up for the week to come, a week that Cottle calls the team’s “biggest of the year.” After traveling to Notre Dame on Monday, the Panthers start a two-game series with Green … who’s currently tied with Clay at the top of the SOC I standings.
Wednesday’s game will be at Clay while the Panthers travel to Franklin Furnace on Friday.
“We’ve got a big week this week,” Cottle said. “We had to keep all of our pitchers below 50 pitches today [against Manchester]. This is the biggest week of our year. We’re still in line for a conference title, us and Green. So we have to take care of business Monday and then it’s for all the marbles Wednesday and Friday.”