By Liana Hardy | [email protected]
The Alexandria Aces defeated the Gaithersburg Giants 10-4 at the city’s Frank Mann Field on Saturday, ending their three-game losing streak and helping them clinch a spot in the upcoming league playoffs.
The victory has put the Aces back on a winning path for the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League Championship Series that will be held July 29 to 31, where they will compete against six other teams located in the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland metropolitan areas. The Aces now hold second place with a 20-10 record, trailing only last year’s champion Bethesda Big Train, which stands at 24-8 and has won the majority of league championships.
Saturday’s game was an important one for the team, according to Assistant Coach Jennifer Hammond, with the Aces bouncing back from their three previous losses to continue one of their best seasons in the organization’s history.
“I am thrilled because we started getting the big hits again and we started coming up with the rallies that we needed the last few games,” Hammond said. “It’s been a little bit of a challenge, but the guys are grinding and they know that this is the time of year that we really have to dig deep.”
The summer collegiate team, which recruits players from college baseball teams all around the country and even outside of the United States, attracted a crowd of about 40 fans at the game, many of whom were families with little league players. Young children and parents wearing their “Prime Time Aces” shirts, representing Alexandria’s little league team, crowded the stands and weathered the heat to cheer on the college players.
Several young girls and teenagers also sported their “DC Girls Baseball” shirts in honor of “Girls and Women in Baseball Day,” a sponsorship event hosted by the Aces for Saturday’s game. The event highlighted the few all-girls baseball programs in the area, and honored Assistant Coach Hammond, the only female coach in Cal Ripken League history.
After tying 1-1 in the first two innings, the Aces secured a 3-2 lead over the Giants by the end of the fourth inning. The Aces then scored five runs in the seventh inning with two doubles and a triple. Seventh-inning runs by outfielder Mike Eze and infielders Adam Tellier and Connor Offshack, along with hits from infielders Brendan Harrity and Eddie Hacopian, boosted the Aces’ lead to 10-4, which the Aces pitchers upheld by shutting out the Giants during the last two innings.
Eze, a rising junior who plays for Georgetown University during the school year, credited the team’s pitchers for his successful outfield performance and praised the batters for a series of hits later in the game.
“The pitchers were really throwing strikes today, helping us out as defenders, getting balls hit right to us,” Eze said. “And our hitters did really well on scrapping runs.”
Head Coach Chris Berset hopes the momentum from Saturday’s win will continue to energize the players as they enter the playoffs and help them “all come together.”
“We’re going to try and make a push for it,” Berset said. “I told these guys we develop early and then at the end of the season, we’re here to win this thing. It’s going to take a collective group effort, but we got the guys to do it.”
Except for returners Adam Tellier and Connor Offshack, the Aces team is made up of all new players from last year. Several players hail from nearby areas in Northern Virginia, but others come from colleges across the country, with four players coming from outside of the United States: two from Canada’s University of the Fraser Valley and two from Jiangning Community College in China. With only two returning players in a team of 34 members, it can be hard for the all-new roster to jump into playing five to six games a week, according to Tellier, a rising junior at Ball State University.
“We have a whole different team. We play a different style of baseball than we really did last year, but we’ve been able to put it together and really kind of come together as a team and have been able to get a pretty good amount of wins, and hopefully spur us into the playoffs,” Tellier said.
Some Aces teammates are also former opponents in their college leagues, according to Tellier’s father Mark Tellier, who traveled from Michigan to watch Saturday’s game, which makes building team chemistry a crucial first step of the season.
“You’ve got to be able to build a family in days rather than weeks or months to be able to be as successful as they are,” Tellier said. “For Adam specifically, he’s actually playing with competitors in his own league back at normal college. There’s guys from Western Michigan on the same team, so they had to get over that little hurdle: being competitors, now teammates.”
While away from their regular college teams, many Aces members stay with host families during the summer. Finding temporary homes for the players is always a challenge, according to majority owner Frank Fannon, but many Alexandria families with children playing little league or interested in baseball have stepped up to host players.
Adam Tellier, who is spending his second summer with an Alexandria host family, said that being away from home for so long can be difficult, but his host families have welcomed him into Alexandria as both a player and a mentor for the “little Aces.”
“Being away from home all summer, it gets a little lonely, but it is what it is, just grind it out,” Tellier said. “It’s been cool to live in a different place and kind of experience a little [of] different things.”
The impact of the players on their younger mentees does not go unnoticed at each of the Aces games, according to Coach Berset, who pointed out the team’s two little league helpers dutifully collecting gear in the dugout and the many young fans studying the team roster and running to look for foul balls by the stands.
“It’s unbelievable, because these little guys are looking up to players from Vanderbilt, seeing all these guys. And you can see their eyes get a little bit bigger,” said Berset, who also co-owns and is general manager of Prime Time Baseball, a baseball academy and elite travel baseball team. According to Berset, some Alexandria little league players go off to play college baseball, with the community impact “coming full circle.”
The Aces also work to inspire their young female fans, many of whom still pursue playing baseball despite the push for girls to switch to softball, according to Assistant Coach Hammond. Hammond said that Saturday’s “Girls and Women in Baseball Day” was a way for the Aces to motivate girls to stick with the sport.
“I think for our girls that were here today for a special girls’ and women’s day, it’s important for them to know that they’re embraced and that there’s a place for them,” Hammond said. “We try to remind them that we have some programs where they can come out, play the game that they love, not be the only girl, find some sisterhood there, and continue to be in an environment that, once upon a time, was not necessarily so welcoming.”
As the only female coach in the Cal Ripken league, Hammond understands the challenges women face in the heavily male-dominated sport. She hopes that her position and work on the team will push the league, as well as other collegiate and major baseball leagues, to include more female coaches and staff on the field.
“I look forward to the day when it’s not a novelty, when it’s normal,” Hammond said. “I won’t lie and say that it doesn’t cross my mind sometimes, it is a little bit of a different world sometimes, but I will say our players are phenomenally respectful. Coach Berset has set a great tone. And I think it’s just like any job, you go into it and you earn your place, you earn your respect.”
The Alexandria Aces’ last home game of the regular season is Saturday at noon on Frank Mann Field. The team will hold its first home playoff game on July 25.