By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale)
In a game of offensive explosions, rallies and lead changes, there would be no late-inning heroics for the Alexandria Aces Sunday night in their playoff game against the Herndon Braves.
The No. 3-seeded Aces trailed 6-5 at Frank Mann Field in the bottom of the eighth but loaded the bases after Niko Hulsizer was hit by a pitch, then Drew Huff and AJ Spencer walked. Designated hitter Shane Connahan flied out to shallow center field, and Hulsizer was sent home to try and tie the game on what would have been a sacrifice fly.
Unfortunately for the hosts, Evan Alderman’s throw was on target and gunned Hulsizer down at the plate to end the inning and extinguish any remaining hopes for the Aces. The defeat ends their season in the first round of the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League playoffs in what was a single elimination game.
“[Head] Coach [David DeSilva] told me to tag up on that no matter where it was in the outfield,” said Hulsizer. “It was a risky play; it was really shallow but we had to do it because we didn’t know if we were going to get another opportunity to score. You had to go all out, but it happens. That’s how baseball is.”
The Aces ran into trouble early against the No. 6 seed Braves, who put up four runs in the top of the first inning against Aces starter Chesdin Harrington. Conner Hall and William Redding each hit an RBI single for Herndon, while Dakota Graham stole home on a wild pitch and Zach Barron hit a sacrifice fly to get the visitors rolling early.
“Chesdin’s been our go-to guy; he was an all-star for us and I would consider him our ace,” DeSilva said. “He just didn’t have it tonight, and that happens. You see it in the big leagues. Sometimes, guys just don’t have their stuff. They jumped on him early.”
Despite the early deficit, the home side battled back early. Spencer was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in the bottom of the first inning to bring home Liam McArthur, then in the second, Alex Stephens hit an RBI double that scored Kevin Heiss. Catcher Drew Bene’s RBI single in the bottom of the fifth reduced the lead to 4-3 in favor of the visitors, but then the Aces charged into the lead in the sixth.
First, Huff hit an RBI single to tie the score at 4-4, then Mike Annone hit an RBI double to send Alexandria into the lead, 5-4.
“[Down] 4-0 isn’t an easy task, but we kept battling,” An- none said. “We said, ‘We don’t got to get all four back in the first inning.’”
“I think these guys could have easily packed it in and said, ‘This is our last game, we’re down 4-0,’” said DeSilva. “But they really didn’t. I think that’s just a tribute to the guys and the hard work they put in all summer that they weren’t ready to go home yet.”
The Aces could not hold their lead, as in the top of the seventh Barron came through with a two-run double off of Aces pitcher Drew Morrison to go ahead 6-5. Braves pitchers Dom Morabito and Cayden Stover closed the door on the hosts’ offense, with Stover earning the save after pitching a perfect ninth inning.
With the loss, the Aces’ 2016 season is over, but the team reflected on a year in which they secured a 23-17 record overall, their second best in team history. As the team huddled after the final out, DeSilva told his team that despite their postseason de- feat, his players could reflect on an impressive summer’s work.
“This group of guys, I told them on day one I thought there was something a little bit different,” he said. “These guys were showing up at 4 or 4:30 p.m. when batting practice doesn’t start until 5 p.m. They were getting their extra work in, pitchers were getting band work in and running in, and the position players were getting extra swings in.
“[I] hope they had a positive experience. I know they got some exposure with some MLB scouts and more importantly, I hope they had a lot of fun.”
As for the players, they agreed it was a positive experience, even with the grind of playing 40 regular season games in the space of two months.
“It was a great time,” said Hulsizer. “I loved every single guy on the team. The coaches were phenomenal, and I wouldn’t take it back for anything.”
“I’m disappointed that we lost, but at the end of the day everybody got a lot better,” said Annone. “We wanted to win the whole thing but it didn’t happen. But there’s nothing to be down on, nothing to really put our heads down. We just came out on the wrong end. But it was a great season, one of the best we’ve ever had for Alexandria Aces baseball. I’m happy to have been a part of it.”