By Katherine Hapgood | [email protected]
The Alexandria Aces won on Sunday night for their third straight victory, beating the D.C. Grays by a score of 11-7. Their recent win streak leaves them with a record of 20-15 near the end of the season putting them in second place, narrowly ahead of the Gaithersburg Giants in third, with one game left before the playoffs begin in the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League this weekend.
After trailing by three runs, 7-4, in the top of the seventh inning, the Aces opened up the game by scoring four runs during the bottom of the inning, bringing them to 8-7 by the 8th inning. They then added three more runs during the bottom of the ninth inning to take home the win, 11-7. The Aces were able to shut out the Grays during the last three innings.
Infielder Mark Kattula, a rising sophomore at Eastern Michigan University, was the stand-out Aces player of the game with three hits, two runs scored and four RBIs. Kattula said that late in the game, “we knew we had the bats to get the job done,” so the team “just kept grinding through our at bats, grinding in the field,” resulting in their win.
Despite the Aces’ recent win streak, Head Coach Chris Berset is taking things day-by-day as his team heads into the playoffs. “It was a great win, and you don’t want to look too far into the playoffs. … Just to get a comeback win right there is really good and a testament to the boys to how they’ve been playing,” Berset said.
Kattula is hopeful the Aces’ powerful hitters can carry them in the playoffs.
“With our offensive lineup one through nine, we’re really deep, so anything’s possible,” Kattula said.
Though the Aces are on a win streak now, the team has had a hard time staying healthy, according to Berset.
“We have a lot of guys who’ve been banged up, and that’s summer ball. You got a grind right there,” he said. A few players have gone home due to injuries or for other various reasons, Berset said.
“With the challenges that are presented to us, people rise to the occasion. Our pitching staff has been outstanding, other players are getting a lot of opportunity to play and they’ve really stepped up,” Berset said.
Aces Majority Owner Frank Fannon credits much of the team’s current standing in the league to Berset.
“We had a four-game losing streak going on and [Berset] called me up and said, ‘Frank we got too many injured players. I’m going to have to bring in some new players,’ and within two days he brought in three new players … and as soon as we got the three new players in, we won eight games in a row,” Fannon said.
Another challenge the team faces is ensuring a consistent level of performance game to game and day to day, according to Kattula.
“[We need to make] sure we’re on our ‘A’ game, locked in every pitch from the first inning to the last, just playing our best game,” Kattula said.
On an organizational level, Fannon said one of the biggest challenges this year was finding host families for the players, who are typically not all from Alexandria, to stay with over the summer. Due to COVID-19 concerns, some families were hesitant to host, so most of those who wound up hosting have children of their own playing little league.
“There were definitely some favors asked, a little arm twisting. We got to the final few days before players arrived and we were just very happy that some families stepped up,” Fannon said.
Sean Waddell, a first-time host parent for the Aces, said he was hesitant at first, but eventually decided to host as the Aces recruited six more players. Waddell’s kids are involved in athletics, including a son who plays baseball.
“We know [it’s] tough for [these players]. They’re going away from home, yet again, for the summer,” Waddell said. “… If either one of our kids were ever in the position where they needed to have a host family, we’d want someone to do it for them, and go somewhere where they can have kind of a newfound experience.”
The decision was easier to make after Waddell heard from other families about the positive experience they’d had hosting Aces players in the past.
Fannon’s 6-year-old son, who plays little league, is enamored with the two Aces players Fannon’s family hosts.
“[My son] wakes up every morning and says, ‘Daddy where [are] the baseball players?’” Fannon said.
Aces games are full of families, many glad to be back in the ball park after the cancelled 2020 season.
“We’re really happy to be able to come out to a fun family-based atmosphere that’s a safe environment, where there’s something really cool going on that sets an example for our small children to aspire to,” Richard Downs, a parent of two young children, said during the Sunday evening game.
During the game, a couple dozen children ran around and played behind the stands, playing variations of baseball and other playground games, while attempting to catch fly balls. Downs said his son found four baseballs at the doubleheader on Saturday and was excited to put them to use.
After the Aces finished last in the league in 2019, and with the 2020 season cancelled due to the pandemic, fans who have come out during this season have enjoyed the dynamic team Berset has pulled together. For more information about the Alexandria Aces, check out the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League website http:// pointstreaksites.com/view/calripkenleague and the Alexandria Aces Twitter @Alexandria_Aces.