Aces slide out of contention

Aces slide out of contention

For his last day on the mound at Frank E. Mann Field, Max Knowles, the only player whose name has been on the Alexandria Aces roster for every game in their three-year history, brought a little extra heat.

Knowles a left-hander who left his mark this year with crafty, accurate pitching rode an amped-up fastball for 13 strikeouts and an 8-0 complete-game shutout of the Herndon Braves in the second game of Saturday’s sun-baked, season-ending double header.

The Alexandria starter allowed just one hit after the third inning and struck out the side twice en route to his league-best sixth win of the summer.

“I didn’t know it was going to be like that, quite that good,” Knowles said after the game. “It just kind of happened. I tried to keep them off balance and they just weren’t catching up to my fastball.

“I was a little juiced up,” he said.

Having already played and lost one game in the day’s 100-degree heat, the Braves (22-20), who already had the Cal Ripken League’s last playoff spot locked up, struggled to keep up with the Aces’ top gun.

A quiet first inning for the hosts gave way to four-run outbursts in the second and third innings and gave Knowles little to worry about for the rest of the evening.

Designated hitter Eric Bainer set the tone with a leadoff double to the left field corner to begin the Aces’ onslaught in the second.

He scored two batters later on a Spencer Branigan fielder’s choice. Chris Murphy’s triple with the bases loaded later that inning brought three more runs home to extend the lead to 4-0.

The four additional runs an inning later only added to the fun for a team that suffered through several slumps over the course of a steamy summer.

That’s a much more enjoyable way to go out than losing a 1-0 game and missing out on the playoffs,” said Aces manager Eric Williams. 

Knowles’ dominant performance didn’t hurt the surge, either.

“It seemed like he had a little more velocity than normal and was just beating bats with that,” said Will Davis, the Aces second-year catcher, also wrapping up his own career with the local summer squad. “All I had to do was catch the ball.”

The night was a fitting end for Knowles, a pitcher from a small North Carolina school who developed into the Ripken League’s best all-around starting pitcher this year with the six wins, 60 strikeouts 13 more than the league’s second best total and a 1.23 ERA.

“It’s typical of Max. He struck out 13 [tonight] or something like that,” said Aces manager Eric Williams. “He’s a dominant kid, it’s fun to watch.”

Combined with Friday night’s 15-5 drubbing of the Southern Maryland Nationals and their dramatic 7-6 last-inning comeback in Saturday’s first game with the Braves, the nightcap meant that the Aces got to close out the summer with a three-game winning streak.

The hot finish also helped the Aces match their record from 2009. But unlike last year when the team controlled its own playoff destiny through its last game, this year’s group was a few games out of contention for the final days of the season.

“I think this year, especially, the guys were happy to get it over with to look ahead to not being out in it every day because it’s just been crazy hot compared to previous years,” Williams said.

Herndon starter Kevin O’Keefe, a 2008 Bishop Ireton graduate, took the loss for the visitors.

Bainer led the Aces at the plate with a 3-for-4 outing and two runs scored. Murphy was 2-for-4 with four RBI.