Aces hit the sweet spot

By Jim McElhatton

Reid Clary’s at-bat in the top of the fifth inning of a 7-2 win against the Presstman Cardinals on Monday night went down as a walk — an afterthought in a road victory that saw the Alexandria Aces return to .500 with a 6-6 record.

But it turned out to be the kind of plate appearance that coaches love.

Clary, who’s a catcher at South Dakota State University, swung and missed on the first pitch against Cards relief pitcher Chris Casey, who misfired with a ball before Clary hit a foul to make the count 1-2.

The catcher proceeded to foul off the next three pitches. Casey finally threw another ball to even the count at 2-2. Then, Clary fouled off yet another pitch. The hurler, perhaps growing frustrated, missed the strike zone with two straight balls and walked Clary.

The Aces bench erupted in cheers.

Clary didn’t score in the inning, but his extended at-bat, fouling pitch after pitch, proved important because it ran up Casey’s pitch count, allowing Aces hitters to get a feel for his offerings. The Aces scored twice in the next inning, including an RBI double by Ryan Mincher.

“Reid Clary’s at-bat kind of personified the whole day for us offensively,” Aces head coach Dave DeSilva said after the game. “We battled. We ran hitters counts. We did things on the base paths that led to several runs and a couple of big innings.”

Ronnie Glenn, of the University of Pennsylvania, pitched six innings for the Aces, striking out seven and giving up two runs on eight hits. And relievers Jarrett Shaffer and Tyler Fries, who pitch together at Wilmington University, shut out the Cardinals in the last three innings.

“The tone was definitely set early with Ronnie on the bump,” DeSilva said.

A three-run home run in the top of the fourth inning by first baseman Nick Kranick, a junior at Flagler College, marked the team’s first homer of the season. He sent a 1-2 pitch over the right-centerfield fence that scored Nick Collins and Mincher.

“We don’t have a lot of power guys,” DeSilva said. “We’ve got singles, doubles guys, sometimes we stretch those into triples. And we do have some guys with some speed and who can put the ball in play.”

Despite only one long-ball through 12 games, the Aces still rank fourth among the league’s 12 teams in batting — led by Collins, a sophomore catcher at Georgetown University who’s hitting .357 overall and .533 over the past week.

The team got a scare late when Collins was hit by a pitch and seen later icing his hand, but he said he was fine after the game.

Collins’ batting average is even more impressive considering how the college summer league can be challenging for hitters — at least early in the season — as they get used to transitioning from aluminum bats to the wooden variety.

“The difference between wood and aluminum is finding the barrel,” said Collins, who had two hits against the Cardinals. “You can get jammed with an aluminum bat and still find the hole. But if you get jammed with a wooden bat, you can still find the hole but you’re going to have a broken bat. It’s just trying to find the barrel the whole time.”

The closest that the Cardinals came to tying the score was in the bottom of the fourth. With the Aces winning 5-2, the Cardinals had runners on first and second with two outs and the tying run at the plate in David Kimbrough, who’s tied for the most RBIs on his team. But Glenn forced him to ground out to the shortstop, ending the threat and inning.

The game was in doubt because of weather almost up to the first pitch. Spotty thunderstorms in the D.C. area turned the ride to Hanover, Md., into a nightmare commute with nearly three hours spent in traffic. Players weren’t even sure if they’d have to turn right around again.

But on the field, as skies cleared, it was a night where everything seemed to go the Aces’ way. On one play, Glenn tried to field a dribbler on the first base side of the mound but fumbled it. Yet he still somehow managed to kick the ball by accident toward first in time for the out. By contrast, the Cardinals committed four errors.

DeSilva hopes the solid pitching continues as the Aces start a tough eight-game stretch in six days starting Friday.

“It’s been up a game, down a game, up a game, down a game,” the coach said. “We’d like to see a bit more consistency, especially on the mound, but hopefully we can carry over the momentum of the game tonight.”

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