Alexandria Aces launch new season with tough stretch

Alexandria Aces launch new season with tough stretch
(Courtesy Mark Briscoe.)

By Arya Hodjat |

The Alexandria Aces have hopes of improving on last season’s performance, but so far are off to a rough start with an 0-6 record.

The Aces, an Alexandria-based collegiate summer baseball team, compete each year in the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League, a league that allows college baseball players to show off their potential by playing with wooden bats like the pros, instead of metal bats.

Last year, the Aces finished in last place in their division with a 17-22 record. But second-year coach Chris Berset thinks that record didn’t tell the whole story.

“I thought we did a pretty good job,” Berset said. “We lost about, what, six or seven onerun, two-run ball games in the last inning – that was tough.”

A former catcher in the Cincinnati Reds minor league system, Berset said he wants to implement more major league strategies this season, such as using spray charts to inform defensive shifts.

It’s a tactic that matches the talent level of the Cal Ripken League, which has seen MLB All-Stars such as Washington Nationals second baseman Brian Dozier and St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Brett Cecil pass through its ranks in past years.

In last week’s MLB Draft, two former Aces got their first taste of professional baseball glory.

Catcher Max Romero was drafted by the Reds in the 38th round, giving him the opportunity to follow in his manager’s footsteps. Shortstop T.J. McKenzie went to the St. Louis Cardinals the next round.

“Your first year as a manager … you got so many responsibilities,” Berset said. “This year, we got a routine. …It’s just a little bit more calm, a little bit more peaceful, so the boys can do what they do best, which is excel on the field.”

Among the players the team will rely on this season are Daniel Brooks, a starting second baseman for George Mason, and Ryan Peltier, who plays shortstop for Indiana’s Ball State University.

As for off-field duties, Berset enjoys a close relationship with the team’s general manager: his wife, Sara Berset, who is also in her second year with the Aces.

The couple became manager and general manager, respectively, prior to the 2018 season.

“Last year, he said, ‘Hey, we’re doing this,’” Sara Berset said. “And I said, ‘What do you mean, we’re doing this?’ And he said, ‘Oh, you’re the GM’… but I’m glad we’re doing this together. Because you really do need to be in close contact, you know, religiously, as GM and coach.”

Sara Berset said that this season, the Aces would look to partner with more local Little League teams in both Alexandria and Arlington. She said the team is also working on partnering with more local businesses this season.

One potential initiative is a “Pups in the Park” night, where people would be able to bring their dogs to a home game at Frank E. Mann Field. The Washington Nationals hold several similar events during the MLB season.

“I’d like to get the community more involved,” she said. “I don’t think the community really knows about how much talent comes to the Alexandria area.”

In the Aces’ season opener on June 4 against the D.C. Grays, Peltier racked up two hits, scoring on a single from left fielder Adam Schwartz to help the Aces bank an early 6-5 lead.

Yet poor fielding doomed Alexandria, as they compiled six errors en route to an eventual 10-6 loss. Errors from Brooks and McKenzie in the second inning led to D.C. scoring five runs, and one final error from McKenzie in the ninth loaded the bases, letting Grays catcher Alex Vasquez plate a run and ice the game.

In an away game against the Gaithersburg Giants on June 5, the Aces found themselves in more of a pitching duel. Alexandria pitcher Jared Lyons held Gaithersburg hitless through five innings, giving up an unearned run on an error and passed ball in the third. Heading into the eighth, Alexandria found itself deadlocked 1-1.

But reliever Noah Short gave up two quick singles, and Giants catcher Tommy Crider drove in two runs to put Gaithersburg up 3-1. While the Aces managed a run in the ninth on catcher Landon Langston’s RBI double, it wasn’t enough, and the Aces ultimately fell 3-2.

The Aces weren’t able to muster any runs in the next two games, falling 8-0 to defending regular season champion Bethesda Big Train on June 6 and 5-0 to Herndon’s Braves on June 7, both on the road.

Back on their home field on Saturday, Alexandria’s offense rebounded. They batted around in the first inning against the Giants, turning a 4-0 hole into a 5-4 lead. T

he two teams remained deadlocked 8-8 headed into the ninth inning, but Short coughed up three runs to send Alexandria to an 11-8 loss.

Against the Braves at home Tuesday, the Aces jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the third, thanks to an RBI single from infielder Stephen Hill and a sacrifice fly from catcher Erek Bolton.

But pitching and fielding woes — including two errors in the seventh — allowed the Braves to score in every subsequent inning besides the sixth, dooming the Aces to a 7-5 loss and an 0-6 start.