It's still very early in the American Legion baseball season, but Dustin Crowden of Cape Girardeau Ford & Sons Post 63 said he has been scuffling at the plate.
"I've been struggling -- in the cage and everything," Crowden said. "I've had to change my stance up. I'm getting there. My hands are getting faster."
Crowden's hands were plenty fast in the bottom of the seventh inning Monday night as he belted a two-run homer well beyond the left-field fence at Capaha Field.
That broke a 7-7 tie and sent Ford & Sons past the Charleston Senior Babe Ruth team 9-7 in Cape's home opener.
Cape improved to 3-0 while the Fighting Squirrels, the defending Senior Babe Ruth Midwest Plains Regional champions, were playing their season opener.
"I was just trying to make contact," said Crowden of his decisive home run. "It was a pretty good swing and I knew it was out."
Crowden's blast helped Cape overcome a mistake-filled night that saw it commit six errors, which led to only two of Charleston's runs being earned.
"We made some errors, but we'll start fielding," Cape's Ryan Grigaitis said. "I think we can hit the ball."
Charleston also wasn't stellar in the field with four errors that caused just four of Cape's runs to be earned.
The Fighting Squirrels' most costly miscues came in Cape's five-run seventh inning, when two dropped outfield fly balls set up the rally.
The second dropped fly ball, off the bat of Josh Henson, came with the bases loaded and two outs. All three runners scored to tie the contest at 7-7.
Crowden followed with his rocket shot that left the park in a hurry.
"They helped us out, but we're a good team," Crowden said. "We can hit the ball."
Cape first-year coach Todd Pennington, a former All-American pitcher at Southeast Missouri State who played several seasons of minor league baseball, was pleased with the victory.
"We're still getting the rust off and we're still missing a few guys [including Austin Greer and Jimmy Obermark from the Notre Dame team that is in this week's Class 3 final four]," Pennington said. "We made some errors, but we also made some good defensive plays and we hit the ball well.
"Charleston is a good team and [coach] Michael Minner does a great job. We capitalized on some things and we came out on top."
One of those strong defensive plays might have saved the win.
Charleston loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth inning when Tyler Whybark drilled a shot into the shortstop hole that looked like it might tie the contest.
But Henson, Cape's shortstop, made a diving stop to his right and got a force out at third base to end the threat.
Levi Felter worked around two singles in the ninth to record a save.
Adam Kelley was the winner with two innings of relief. He allowed two hits and three runs, just one of which was earned.
Cape starter Andrew Williams was solid, allowing six hits and four runs -- only one earned -- in six innings. He did not strike out a batter but also did not issue a walk.
"He pitched well," Pennington said.
Ford & Sons had 12 hits. Crowden, Felter, Grigaitis and Tyler Glidewell led the way with two apiece.
Charleston had 10 hits, including a three-run homer in the sixth inning from Notre Dame product Blake Gaddis that tied things.
"Dustin hit a bomb, but so did Blake," said Cape assistant coach Steve Williams, like Pennington a former Southeast All-American who played several seasons of minor league baseball.
Gaddis, Whybark and Matt Medlock all had two hits for the Fighting Squirrels.
Conner Scott suffered the loss despite allowing just four earned runs in 6 2/3 innings.
"It was a good victory for us," said Pennington, who coached the Cape Junior Legion team along with Williams last year.
Although the season has just started, Pennington likes the look of a squad that features players from six area high schools: Central, Notre Dame, Scott City, Kelly, Anna-Jonesboro (Ill.) and Shawnee (Ill.).
"I'm happy with what we've got," Pennington said.
WP -- Adam Kelley, 1-0. S -- Levi Felter, 1. LP -- Conner Scott, 0-1. HR -- Blake Gaddis (Ch), Dustin Crowden (C). 2B -- Matt Medlock (Ch). Multiple hits -- Charleston, Medlock 2-4, Gaddis 2-5, Tyler Whybark 2-5; Cape, Crowden 2-4, Felter 2-4, Tyler Glidewell 2-4, Ryan Grigaitis 2-5. Records -- Charleston 0-1, Cape 3-0.