Aces in playoff contention after decent start to season

By Jim McElhatton (Photo/Mark Briscoe)

It’s been an up and down season so far for the Alexandria Aces. After roaring out to a 5-0 start, they were pulled back to a respectable 9-8 record a little before the halfway point of the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League season.

The Aces still find themselves at the top half of the league standings, but dropped two straight at home on Monday and Tuesday. Following Monday night’s 9-5 loss to the Gaithersburg Giants — a game that featured a major league scout clocking pitches from behind the backstop at Frank Mann Field — Aces head coach Dave DeSilva said overall the team has made a solid start.

“We’ve had some good outings from our starters and guys coming out of the bullpen and we’ve started to get hot with the bats lately, so we’re looking to carry that momentum into the second half of the season,” DeSilva said.

DeSilva added that it’s also been a streaky season, with the team going 2-6 after its hot 5-0 start. In the past few games, however, they have started swinging the bats a little better.

Among the standout performers so far, catcher Danny Bermudez, a sophomore at Western Carolina University, ranks in the top five in the league with a .360 batting average. He’s also hit two home runs.

Shortstop Josh Swirchak, a senior at Wilmington University, is hitting .320 and is ranked among the top five in the league with a dozen RBIs. He tripled in the eighth inning on Monday night after a single earlier in the game, while Bermudez collected a pair of hits. And starting pitcher John Gora, a senior at Tennessee Tech University, has given up only two runs in three starts, winning the league’s pitcher of the week honors.

Unlike previous years, the roster has changed over the weeks as players are released and signed. And for a lot of teams, including the Aces, the extended college playoffs at both NCAA Division II and Division I levels have left rosters unsettled even as teams near the midway point of the season.

The Aces season program includes a pair of players from Texas Tech University, which saw its season extended after qualifying for the College World Series, meaning players who committed to summer ball teams were preoccupied with postseason play in Omaha, Neb. Gaithersburg also was waiting on players from the University of Texas.

“It can be kind of difficult to build your team because you know that some of the top teams are playing and they still could be playing until the end of June,” DeSilva said. “I think a lot of teams in the league are battling that, especially your upper echelon teams.”

The Aces find themselves tied for fourth place in the 11-team league, within clear striking distance of second at a game and a half behind the Rockville Express and Baltimore RedBirds. Powerhouse Bethesda Big Train is in first place at 15-1.

Even after being down 8-0 late in Monday’s game, the Aces put together a rally.

“We fell behind a lot in the counts and they made us pay for it,” said DeSilva. “We just did a poor job early setting the tempo and tone from the bump [pitcher’s mound] but when we started throwing strikes and pounding the ball, the offense started to come alive.”

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