By Chris Damond
The Alexandria Aces are the Cal Ripken League regular season champions for the first time in team history. A 9-5 victory over the Gaithersburg Giants on Saturday afternoon at Frank Mann Field gave them the title. The game went seven innings due to extreme heat.
Alexandria and the Bethesda Big Train, winners of the past five league championships, finished with identical 26-10 records, but the Aces owned the tiebreaker with a 4-2 head-to-head advantage.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Adam Tellier (Ball State), the Aces leader in hits, said. “It feels really good, honestly, to get it for coach [Chris] Berset. He’s been coaching in this league for a while now and for him to finally get one regular season [title] under his belt is really cool.”
Alexandria ended the regular season on a seven-game winning streak, the longest of the year. The Aces are now the number one seed in the playoffs and will enjoy a first-round bye, but it wasn’t always clear that they would capture the top spot. Prior to their win streak, Alexandria had dropped three in a row. Just like all season, though, the Aces bounced back and won both games in a crucial doubleheader against the Bethesda Big Train on Thursday to give them a shot at the regular season title.
“This is a lot of fun,” Dylan Koontz (Campbell) said. “I’ve never been to Virginia, never met these guys. I’m just having fun, and I’m just playing ball.”
Alexandria boasts the best offense in the Cal Ripken League, with a .303 team batting average and a league-high 352 hits.
It’s what kept them in the game Saturday, as Gaithersburg jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the third inning. It didn’t last long though. Alexandria responded with four runs in the bottom half to take the lead, which was jumpstarted by Koontz’s RBI single. An error by the Giants’ third baseman plated another, before Jacob Friend’s (Davidson) sacrifice fly tied the game. The Aces took their first lead when Koontz completed the 360-foot journey along the basepaths by stealing home.
Gaithersburg tied it at five in the sixth, but then Alexandria native, and Alexandria City High School graduate, Reese Crochet (George Washington) came in with two runners on and retired the side with one pitch. He picked up the win. Matthew Vernieri was tagged with the loss.
Tellier brought in the go-ahead run in the bottom half of the inning with a single, and the Aces scored three more runs in the sixth to put the game away.
“Working with coach and just trusting my ability, [I’ve] been able to get it done consistently. It felt pretty good,” Tellier said about his hitting this season.
It was a fitting path to victory for a team that came back to win several games this season. At one point, the Aces had six straight come-from-behind victories. They’ve been the underdogs for much of the year, but with a regular season title, a changing of the guard with the Bethesda Big Train seems possible.
Alexandria has been on the rise for a while now, ever since manager Chris Berset, who previously played for the Cincinnati Reds organization, took over in 2019. Last year, the Aces finished second in the Cal Ripken League standings and even made the championship but fell to Bethesda.
Now Alexandria looks to finish the job. That journey begins at Frank Mann Field on Monday at 6:30 in Game One of the LCS Semifinals. Their opponent won’t be known until tomorrow, when four other teams will play a single elimination game for the chance to face either the first-seeded Aces or second-seeded Big Train in the semifinals.
“We just had fun all year,” Tellier said. “If we just keep having fun and trusting each other, we’ll get it done.”
LCS Semifinals Game 1 – July 25 at Frank Mann Field
LCS Semifinals Game 2 – July 26
LCS Semifinals Game 3 (if necessary) – July 27 at Frank Mann Field
LCS Championship Game 1 – July 29
LCS Championship Game 2 – July 30
LCS Championship Game 3 – July 31