ELKTON - They’re still below .500, but the Elkton Blue Sox are making a run at the Eastern Division crown as the season begins to wind down.
With a 6-1 win over New Market on Sunday night, the Blue Sox moved to 7-9 on the season and are right in contention for first place in their division. The team has won two straight games and four of its last six.
“We’re starting to get guys to the ballpark and they’re starting to play ball,” head coach Dave Loker said. “I think they’re looking forward to coming to the field. That’s what makes it fun, when they come here like that.”
The Blue Sox played their first game of the season on May 26, but were faced with four consecutive rainouts from May 27 to June 3. Not being able to play prevented the guys on the team from meshing together and developing a team chemistry, which is essential to on-field success.
When they finally were able to play, the Blue Sox got off to a 2-6 start to the season and things were looking bleak. Recently though, the team has been playing at a higher level, and Loker believes that the players being able to spend more time together has something to do with that.
“I think a lot of them are starting to get used to what each one can do,” Loker said. “I think that’s had a big impact on turning it around.”
Having a close team has improved the product that Elkton is putting on the field, but it also makes the games and being around each other more fun.
“I’m real tickled with a lot of the guys that we’ve got. They’ve got good attitudes,” Loker said as players joked around in the dugout after Sunday’s win. “You can hear them. That makes a big difference. It’s a lot of fun when you’ve got guys like that that want to play.”
The Blue Sox struggled last season, finishing 10-18 and with the worst record in the league. They got hot at the end of the regular season and took Clover Hill to game three in the quarterfinals, but they were unable to advance to the next round.
The momentum from 2017 didn’t carry over to the beginning of this season, and the Blue Sox had a tough slide to start their 2018 campaign.
The team is just two years removed from an RCBL Finals appearance, though, and many of the players that were on that team are still around.
“We’ve had a big turnaround on players, because it does change a lot. We do have some of the old ones back like Lee [Carneal] and JJ’s been with us the whole time,” Loker said. “We’ve got a few old ones. Connor’s been with us all the way through. And our pitching, Mark Arrington, he’s been with us.”
Some of the veterans that Loker mentioned have been among the most productive players in the league during the 2018 season. Lee Carneal is currently second in the league in batting average at .400 and has four home runs on the season.
Just last Monday, Arrington tossed nine innings in a 5-3 win over Stuarts Draft. The veteran righty struck out 11 batters as he threw his third complete game of the season. He is currently among the league leaders in wins (2) and ERA (1.61).
The veterans have been key to the Blue Sox’ success so far, but some of the newcomers have been playing big roles as well.
“There’s a lot of new guys too that are filling in real good,” Loker said. “Cam [Stanley] and Jack [Decker] and all those guys that are new, that are making a difference, they’ve got a good attitude.”
Stanley is right behind Carneal in batting average, hitting .396 on the season, and just ahead of him in home runs with five this year. His most recent homer came in Sunday’s win over New Market.
Another newcomer who has been making waves is pitcher Kris Lalk. Loker’s son JJ talked about Lalk before the season, saying that he was excited about the 6’7” pitcher who has some velocity behind his fastball.
Lalk currently leads the league in strikeouts with 65 and has an ERA of 2.00. The lefty from Colorado struck out 16 batters against New Market on Sunday, setting a season-high for strikeouts in one game. He was named Pitcher of the Week for his performance in Sunday’s game.
All four teams in the East are within two-and-a-half games of each other, making it an exciting race to watch as the season enters the final three weeks. In the past week alone, Elkton has picked up wins over each of the other three teams in the division as the Blue Sox have climbed the standings.
When asked what he thinks the limit is for this year’s team, Coach Loker said he feels confident about the Blue Sox’ ability to compete against anyone.
“When we’ve got everybody at the park, I think we can play with any of the teams in the league,” Loker said. “I think all the teams are pretty balanced, but I think we’re right in the mix of any of them.”
Elkton still has 13 more games before the end of the regular season, so there’s plenty of time for the landscape of the league to change. While there is no way to tell who the Blue Sox will be playing come playoff time, Loker knows his team will be ready.
“When it comes down to it, when we get into a series or something, I ain’t guaranteeing we’ll win it, but we’ll be in it,” Loker said. “We will be there.”