The Aces: Back in the swing of things

The Aces: Back in the swing of things

Displaying a knowing patience in the batters box Friday night, Alexandria Aces hitters gave their own starting pitcher Max Knowles something he didnt come across often while wearing the pinstripes a year ago run support.

And with a lead that ballooned to as many as six runs, Knowles and the Aces had little else to worry about on the opening night of the 2010 Cal Ripken League season as they beat the Herndon Braves 9-4 before a crowd of more than 200 at Frank E. Mann Field.

Although the Braves struck first, taking Knowles for two runs in the top of the second, the Aces wasted no time bouncing back.

Catcher Will Davis, another returning Ace, singled to short left field to begin the bottom half of the inning, the first of five straight Alexandria base-runners. Herndon starter Mike Constable walked right fielder Mike Gragilla with no outs and the bases loaded to make Davis the first of three runs in the frame.

With one out two innings later, Aces designated hitter Eric Bainer (two runs), batting ninth, sweated out a seven-pitch at-bat for a hard line-drive single over the shortstop. Chris Murphy followed with a walk and Rand Ravnaas sent a double bouncing over first base to plate Bainer.

When Jeff Hopkins eventually replaced Constable on the mound with the bases loaded, Daviss sacrifice fly to center field scored the third and final run of the inning. Three more tallies in the fifth inning provided for the games final margin.

The hosts offensive outburst, a far cry from 2009 when they averaged a paltry 2.76 runs per game, meant the Aces pitching staff had plenty of breathing room.

When were stringing hits together and putting runs up on the board it makes my job real easy, said Knowles, a senior from North Carolina Wesleyan, who picked up the win after giving up three runs on five hits in seven innings.

Twelve different times Friday night Alexandria hitters waited out at-bats of six pitches or more and earned 8 trips to first base in the process.

The Aces used just seven hits to score nine, but found base 10 other times between walks (seven), hit batsmen (two) and an error. The only batter not to cross home, third baseman Kevin Johnson, still notched two RBIs.

They did a very good job working counts, said Herndon coach P.J. Mitchell. We had some times when we were ahead in counts and they fouled off some pitches and made our pitches work.

Davis, who finished the evening going 2-for-4 at the plate, said the recent college season made him more comfortable at the plate. His teammates seemed to be in a similar groove.

It seems like we had a lot of disciplined guys up, Davis said. I know its the first night and Im sure as the summer wears on people will get a little lackadaisical, myself included, but everyone looked pretty sharp in the box tonight.

Alexandria head coach Eric Williams remained cautious after the first win of the season, but liked what he saw.

Its our first game and its our first chance to see live pitching, really, so Im very encouraged that even some of the big guys are very patient and real confident in the batters box, Williams said.

An 8-3 loss to Rockville on Saturday and a 4-0 loss to Bethesda on Sunday rounded out the Aces opening weekend. They return to Alexandria Friday to host the Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts.

Notes: Four of the first five batters in the Aces order on Friday night were left-handed, leaving Herndon coaches scratching their heads. Too many left-handed bats, Mitchell said. But the southpaw bias wasnt totally by design: Everybodys going to say that the first time around I didnt set it out that way, it just ended up that way, Williams said.