By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale)
Entering their July 3 matchup with the Bethesda Big Train, the Alexandria Aces were riding a streak of four wins in their last five games, and the offense had started to find its rhythm.
It was a run that put the Aces’ record at 14-10 overall, just 2 and a half games back from the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League South Division-leading Big Train. A win at a rainy Frank Mann Field Sunday would have put them even closer to one of their big rivals.
Unfortunately for the Aces, it was not to be. Despite eight strong innings from starting pitcher Chesdin Harrington, the hosts lost 1-0 and saw their record fall to 14-11 overall.
A two-out RBI single from catcher Michael Emodi scored outfielder Vinny Esposito for the game’s only run, while starting Bethesda pitcher Drew Strotman gave up seven hits and one walk in six innings of work. Big Train reliever Stephen Schoch threw three perfect innings to earn the save.
While he was disappointed to lose and see a starting pitcher’s strong work go unrewarded, Aces head coach David DeSilva said his team have turned the corner and look strong.
“We continue to create momentum,” he said. “A 1-0 baseball game is typically always a good baseball game. We had no errors in the field, both pitchers did fantastically. It was just those one or two innings where we didn’t quite get the job done offensively that made the difference in the ballgame.”
One crucial moment for the Aces offense came in the bottom of the fourth inning, with the score still knotted at 0. Outfielder Niko Hulsizer led off with a walk, then infielder Mike Annone singled to put runners on the corners with no outs. Outfielder AJ Spencer was the next batter, but he hit into a fielder’s choice to shortstop Garrett Kueber, who threw to second baseman Clayton Daniel for the force out of Annone.
With Daniel seemingly set to throw to first base for the double play, Hulsizer was sent home, but was tagged out at the plate by Emodi, who had received a bullet of a throw from Daniel to prevent the run from scoring. It was the closest the Aces offense would get to putting a run on the scoreboard.
“We had a couple of opportunities here and there and a couple of situations that we didn’t quite execute in,” DeSilva said. “We didn’t quite get a couple of things done offensively, so that part continues to be frustrating.”
Previously, DeSilva has said his team need to be more mindful of situational hitting, and he repeated that call after the game Sunday, as his team could not take advantage of having a runner on third with no outs in the fourth inning.
“It’s a common theme for us; it’s a trend,” DeSilva said. “We continue to talk about it, but at some point these guys are going to have to figure out how to execute or we’re going to continue to lose one-run ballgames. We’ve been playing really well as of late. I’m really pleased with what we’ve done over the past week or so.”
The Aces continue to make an impression in the regular season, and remain far ahead of the third-place Herndon Braves in the South Division. After losing 6-5 to the Vienna Riverdogs in 11 innings last month, Alexandria beat the Rockville Express twice in two days, then defeated the Braves 10-5 on the Aces’ home field.
An 11-6 loss at the Gaithersburg Giants was followed by a 6-4 win over the Baltimore Dodgers, and DeSilva said even a loss to the strong Big Train shows that Alexandria is among the best teams in the league.
“The Big Train always puts a competitive product out on the field; [head coach] Sal [Colangelo] always does a good job managing those guys. We won the first matchup [4-2 on June 15], they walked off on us in the second matchup [a 6-5 loss on June 25],” he said. “Then to lose a 1-0 ballgame, we’re right in there with some of the best in the league.”
The closing weeks of the regular season promise to be busy for the Aces, who have very few days off between now and their final regular season game on July 22. They returned to action after the Independence Day holiday Wednesday at home against the Baltimore Redbirds, and have a grueling run of 14 games in 17 days, even with the league’s brief all-star break.
With plenty still to play for, DeSilva thinks his team will have opportunities to impress, especially with the postseason also fast approaching.
“The parity in the league is fantastic,” he said. “You still have got seven or eight teams vying for six playoff spots, maybe nine teams vying for those six playoff spots. We just need to continue to play good, consistent, sound fundamental baseball and we’re going to be fine.”