By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale)
After a relatively slow start, the Alexandria Aces’ bats woke up in the sev- enth inning of their season opener Tuesday night against the Gaithersburg Giants and came on strong the hosts won 10-1 at Frank Mann Field in front of 173 fans.
The home team took an early 2-0 lead in the third inning after second baseman Drew Huff got an RBI on a groundout with one out, then shortstop Christian Adorno came home on a throwing er- ror by the Giants third base- man Joel Paulino.
That lead was halved to 2-1 the next inning, however, as Gaithersburg left fielder Alex Ward scored on a balk by Aces pitcher Billy Lescher.
Things opened up in the seventh, as right fielder Niko Hulsizer hit a 2-RBI single, then Jeffery Crisan and Hunter Wood hit RBI singles of their own to stretch the hosts’ advantage to 6-1. Pinch runner Micah Kaczor then scored on a wild pitch later in the inning.
In the eighth, the Aces completed their scoring as Huff and third baseman Alex Stephens both stole home, then pinch hitter Drew Bene walked with the bases loaded. It completed a dramatic turnaround for Alexandria, which had stranded several runners on base and in scoring position.
“Hitting is contagious, and when one person starts to hit, it all starts to go,” Stephens said. “We started off slow. It’s tough to adjust to a wood bat league when you’ve just come out of college, it takes some getting used to. We started getting things going, things started going our way and when you start catching breaks, the big hits [come].”
Aces head coach David DeSilva said while he never doubted the offense would click, his players needed to be better at situational hitting to score runners as efficiently as possible.
“We didn’t do that early in the game, we had bases loaded with one out, we popped up and grounded into balls for forces at the plate,” DeSilva said. “We didn’t do a good job of situational hitting, and that’s something we just talked to the [players] about. You’ve got to get runners in from third when you have less than two outs. We need to do a better job of that, then we’re going to win a lot of games.”
Initially, it was a pitchers’ duel, as Lescher and Giants starter Jacob Brewer battled hard. In the first three full innings, the pair only allowed three baserunners between them, with Lescher throwing a perfect first three frames on the hill for the Aces.
Lescher, returning to the Aces for a second season after playing in 2015, ran into difficulty in the fourth as he gave up the Giants’ only run of the game, and then again in the fifth as he allowed baserunners at first and third with just one out. A popup to Adorno at shortstop got the second out and held the runners, then Lescher induced Ward to fly out to Liam McArthur in center field to escape the inning unscathed.
Lescher would throw one more inning before exiting the game, ending with 6 innings of work, in which he notched 3 strikeouts, gave up 4 hits and 1 run on 75 pitches. He credited catcher Cody Miller for helping him navigate some tough situations, and for helping him gain confidence with early strikes.
“I think we were good at working ahead,” Lescher said. “I found myself ahead of a lot of batters, a lot of advantage counts for myself that left options to go to some off-speed stuff. I thought [Miller] was spotting up my pitches pretty well, and they were getting a lot of weak contact, which kept the pitch count low through 6 innings, which is nice, especially in the first start.”
The energy and intensity from the Aces’ dugout and on the field was infectious, and was something that DeSilva said has already impressed him and his coaching staff. He and his players agreed that if they can keep up that energy, the team could turn some heads in the fiercely competitive Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League.
“We need positive energy in the dugout, and the players to stay up and have fun,” said Hulsizer. “That’s really what tonight was: we had a lot of fun and went out there and played the game.”
“I told them after our exhibition [a 5-1 win Sunday over the Herndon Braves], I said, ‘You know what, this is my fifth year with the Aces and this is the first time I can really say that there’s something special and different about this group,’” DeSilva said. “I’m not quite sure what it is yet, but there’s three or four guys in there that are leading the charge, they’re taking the lead. You can hear them calling [Adorno] ‘Captain’ already, just because he’s bringing a little bit of extra to the dugout and to the field every night.”