Despite late season dip, Aces reflect on best season yet

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The Alexandria Aces ultimately fell in their final contest against the Bethesda Big Train July 19 (Photo Credit: Mark Briscoe)

By Evan Berkowitz | eberkowitz@alextimes.com 

After the Alexandria Aces blew an 11-run sixth inning lead in their first and only playoff game, team owner Don Dinan couldn’t help but think of baseball’s other great disappointments.

“I haven’t felt this bad since Game Seven of the ’79 World Series, when the Pirates beat the Orioles by one run, or Game Six of the ’86 Mets-Red Sox, which is, of course, the Billy Buckner game,” Dinan said in an interview the following afternoon.

“It’s a cruel sport,” he added, pausing on the other end of the phone line. “And you can quote me on that.”

No ground balls slipped between Aces’ legs like Buckner’s in Monday’s wild card
loss to the Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts, but as the Aces went from 13-2 in the sixth inning to a final tally of 15-14 after 10, a happy ending to the team’s best-ever season slipped through their grasp.

The Aces had skidded in the season’s closing week, going 3-5 through a stretch that began with a “heartbreaking” 15-inning road loss to the league-leading Bethesda Big Train.

Blake Walker, a sophomore at Northern Illinois University, pitches
during the game against the Bethesda Big Train on July 19 (Photo Credit: Mark Briscoe)

“That’s by far the best actual baseball game I’ve ever been involved in,” said Aces Coach David DeSilva, citing the quality of play, back-andforth scoring and the Aces hail-Mary use of a five-man infield to stave off a late-game walk-off hit. “It was a really fun game for both sides to be a part of.

“I wish every game was like that,” he said. “Unfortunately, we came out on the losing end.”

After the Big Train loss, Alexandria fell to the D.C. Grays before splitting a double-header with the FCA Herndon Braves.

“That dynamic of a double header changes how we play the game,” DeSilva said. Its shorter seven-inning format places a premium on early scores and small ball, he said, as well as taxing position players and the bullpen.

The Aces went on to beat the Gaithersburg Giants before dropping once more to Bethesda, this time 10-4, then losing to the Baltimore Redbirds. The Aces closed the regular season with a win over the Rockville Express on July 21 for a final record of 28-12, three games back of Bethesda in the league’s South Division.

“We didn’t perform at peak performance late,” DeSilva said. “But I’m really pleased with the result of the season.” Despite the disappointing playoff performance, Dinan takes solace in the adages of ballplayers past as he moves to build on the Aces’ early season success, which saw them nationally ranked for the first time and standing ahead of rival Bethesda for much of the season.

“After you lose a crushing game like last night, the great thing about baseball is there’ll be another game tomorrow,” Dinan said, referring to next season. “And as Satchel Paige said, ‘Never look back — somebody may be catching up with ya.’”

As the Aces prepare for next season, DeSilva praised the team’s “strong base” and said he looks to build on the program’s 10 years of progress as it enters its second decade.

“When we started out 10 years ago, on a wing and a prayer I think, of course we had one of the worst teams in the league, as an expansion team,” Dinan said.

This year, the team’s ranking — once as high as No. 4 in the nation among collegiate

An Aces batter swings during the game against Bethesda on July 19 (Photo Credit: Mark Briscoe)

summer teams — have lent the Aces a national audience for their success.

“It puts us at the top rank of teams in the country, which is something we can build on,” Dinan said. “Particularly for recruiting, success breeds success: The college coaches send the best teams the better players, and it becomes a virtuous cycle.”

From neck-and-neck nailbiters with the Big Train to two top-10 rankings to a stable of Division I and coaching talent unimaginable a decade ago, Dinan said the team’s future is firmly in hand.

“And we’re not crying about last night,” Dinan added Tuesday, sneaking tantalizingly close to the famed Tom Hanks axiom from “A League of Their Own.”

“We’re already … planning our drafting decisions for next year,” he said. “And hopefully next year, the ball will bounce our way and we’ll go deep in the playoffs and even win it all.”