By Jeff Nations
STEPHENS CITY -- Randolph-Macon Academy senior right-hander Neil Dutton dared Shenandoah Valley Christian Academy's batters to hit his offerings during Tuesday's game, filling slicing pitch after pitch across home plate as he filled the strike zone.
Many Patriots tried, but few succeeded against Dutton, who struck out a career-high 15 while allowing no walks and scattering three singles in a complete-game shutout effort as the Yellow Jackets blanked SVCA, 7-0, in non-conference action.
"I haven't felt this good all season," Dutton said. "The ball felt good coming out."
That much was apparent from the start, as Dutton struck out two batters in each of the first three innings, fanned the side in the fourth and fifth, got another in the sixth and two more in the seventh to close out the win. Every SVCA starter was a strikeout victim at least once against Dutton, who threw just 90 pitches in seven innings.
"Honestly, this year we've faced a lot of junk pitchers," Patriots coach Bobby Wheelock said. "So we were a little behind early on him with his fastball."
The game showed promise as a pitching duel between Dutton and SVCA's Mike Powell, and for the most part it lived up to that potential. Powell gave up a first-inning run on Dutton's RBI groundout and later was victimized by the Patriots' shaky defense for another two unearned runs in five innings of work. Powell, a right-hander, struck out eight and allowed only two hits before exiting after the fifth with the Patriots trailing 3-0.
That deficit was plenty daunting for SVCA (8-7), considering the way Dutton was throwing.
"He does good out there," Wheelock said of Dutton. "I knew [runs] were going to be tough to come by. We wanted to get them early -- Mike was on a strict pitch count. Non-conference game, we don't want to overdo it -- he was just getting his work in."
Dutton, who said he's planning to play baseball at Shenandoah University next year, has teamed with fellow senior Griffin Duy -- who recently announced intentions to play at the University of Virginia-Wise -- to form a powerful one-two pitching punch for R-MA (9-5).
"He was throwing the ball pretty good -- he was heating it up," R-MA coach Robert Locklear said. "When I've got him and Griffin going at the same time back-to-back in the [Delaney Athletic Conference] tournament, we're going to be a force to be reckoned with."
Dutton scored R-MA's second run in the third after reaching on an error, then got the Yellow Jackets' second hit off Powell in the fifth.
"We're friends, so I was thinking I want to get a hit off him," Dutton said. "He went up there thinking the same thing."
The Yellow Jackets jumped on SVCA's relief pitching in the seventh, plating four more runs on just one hit, five walks and a hit by pitch. Dutton delivered the big blow with a two-run singles. Chris Bell had the only other hit for R-MA, a first-inning single.
"Without getting a lot of practice in, we've kind of been struggling with our hitting," Locklear said. "We need to get some practice in, and hopefully tomorrow will be that day."
SVCA got singles from Jacob Heflin, Samantha Yarnall and Matt Rogers in the loss.
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>