Aces Playoff Preview

By Peter Rainey

July 23, 2023

The Alexandria Aces concluded a historic regular season Friday in the Cal Ripken Senior Collegiate Summer League; finishing with a record of 30 wins and six losses, the Aces set a franchise record for regular season wins and secured the league’s number one seed for postseason play. The team is set to embark on their playoff run tonight with the opening game of the League Semifinal Series at 6:30 p.m. from their home Frank Mann Field, where they will meet the number five seed Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts.

After a home loss to the Bethesda Big Train on June 15, the Aces went on a near month-long tear, racking up 17 consecutive wins—they would not lose again until June 13 on the road versus the Southern Maryland Senators. Prior to their loss at the Senators, the Aces were 24-2, good for a staggering 92.3 win percentage at the time. While the back end of the regular season saw momentum slow with the Aces, finishing 6-4 in their last ten, the team locked up the regular season championship by a wide margin—the second-place Bethesda Big Train finished their regular season at 23-13, a whole seven games behind the Aces.

“It’s huge (getting the number one seed). We get to play in front of our home crowd now . . .  We’re going to keep playing hard and keep playing good baseball, as we have all year long,” Aces’ Matt Ossenfort of Vanderbilt University said. Ossenfort, now officially the home run king of the Cal Ripken League, tallied a league-high eight home runs during the regular season.

The Aces swept the season series against the T-Bolts 4-0, but down the stretch of the season, the cobalt-blue squad out of Silver Spring, Maryland has proven to be no pushover. The T-Bolts have climbed out of the league basement and into the playoff ranks, and they are peaking at the perfect time. After a 2-11 start to the season, the Thunderbolts responded with a five-game winning streak and a stretch of eight wins in 12 games. Following the 2-11 slump to open the season, the T-Bolts have since tallied a winning 13-11 record; now, they’ve earned a meeting with the Aces in the League Semifinal Series.

Four T-Bolts’ batters average over .300 from the plate: Beck Urofsky (.340 AVG, Cornell University), Zane Gross (.338 AVG, Barry University), Matthew Sicoli (.337 AVG, Emory University), and Quincy Via (.304 AVG, Marymount University); of the four mentioned, two were named Cal Ripken League All-Stars—Gross and Urofsky.

The most exciting of the four regular season meetings between the T-Bolts and Aces was far and away an extra-innings affair at Blair Stadium on June 14th; a ten-inning, 9-6 victory for the Aces saw tempers fly as T-Bolts head coach Brock Hunter was ejected during an Aces rally in the top of the 10th. T-Bolts’ Amani Jones, another Cal Ripken League All-Star, led the team in hits with three in five at-bats that night. Jones’ success against the Aces is worth noting—he’s recorded a base hit in all but one of the four meetings between the two teams this year.

The Aces will feature a new weapon this time around against the Thunderbolts in the form of Outfielder Amani Allen, a Chipola University commit out of Washington, D.C. Jones stepped away from the team for roughly a month to focus on garnering feedback during this year’s MLB Draft; he returned to the Aces on July 12th in a win versus the D.C. Grays, and came up big in a 3-2 victory at the Bethesda Big Train with a go-ahead two-RBI double July 18th.

“It’s really like a family here,” Allen said. “They bring everybody in, and it’s always fun playing here.”

There’s a lot to be excited about as we arrive at playoff baseball, as said best by Aces’ Assistant Coach Jen Hammond: “Aces fans are in for a real treat. While we’ve been fortunate to have had some really strong teams, especially the championship squad from last year, this team has been historically dominant and has already accomplished so much. I’m most impressed by different guys stepping up over the course of the season—the regular season championship was truly a collective effort.” Hammond stepped in for head coach Chris Berset in a 14-6 win at the Gaithersburg Giants Thursday, becoming the first woman to manage a game in the Cal Ripken League.

“I’m honored to be the first woman to break this barrier, but I very much hope not to be the last,” Hammond said. “I hope others will earn similar opportunities and that you’ll see more women on the field [and] in the dugout in the seasons to come.”

The first pitch from Frank Mann Field tonight is slated for 6:30 p.m., the opening game of a best-of-three series with the Thunderbolts to decide who will advance to the League Championship Series.