By Chris Damond
Alexandria is now the city of champions. After securing the regular season title last week, the first-seeded Alexandria Aces downed the second-seeded Bethesda Big Train, 5-3, on Saturday night at Shirley Povich Field to win the Cal Ripken League Championship for the first time in team history.
Alexandria swept Bethesda, 2-0, in the best-of-three series and stopped them from winning its sixth consecutive title. The Aces went a perfect 4-0 in the playoffs on their way to victory.
Both teams went back and forth for much of the night until the ninth inning, when tied at 3, the Aces broke through with two runs to put the game away.
Dylan Koontz (Campbell) led off the ninth with a walk, advancing to second on CJ Boyd’s (Appalachian State) groundout in the next at-bat. Then, on his steal attempt, the Big Train committed one of their three costly errors on the night. Catcher Baylor Cobb missed the throw to third, bringing Koontz home for the go-ahead run.
Moments later, Cade Sullivan (Western Michigan) launched a solo homer and was mobbed by his teammates after trotting the bases. It was Sullivan’s third home run of the playoffs. A thunderous “Let’s Go Aces” chant followed by the Alexandria faithful and, for a second, it seemed like everyone was back at Frank Mann Field.
All-star Ryan Brown closed out the game with a quick 1-2-3 inning. After his strikeout to retire the side, the Aces – along with staff, family and more – rushed the field to celebrate.
“It feels unbelievable. I can’t even put it into words,” series MVP Eddie Hacopian (Maryland) said. “We just came out there, and out dogged them from start to finish. That was our motto all year – just dogs being dogs.”
The Potomac, Maryland, native was just minutes away from his hometown when the Aces won the championship in Bethesda at Shirley Povich Field.
On whether that added any additional meaning to the victory, Hacopian said, “I’d be lying if I said it didn’t, but anywhere I could win it with this group of guys is really awesome.”
Hacopian, the Aces leadoff hitter, recorded four hits in the series and scored the first run on Saturday after Adam Tellier (Ball State) smacked a double that bounced off the center field wall in the third.
Starting pitcher Sasha Kamenjasevic, one of two Canadiens on the team, pitched three scoreless innings. But Bethesda still had several baserunners early on, and after Kamenjasevic allowed a leadoff single in the fourth, fellow Canadien and University of Fraser Valley teammate, Josh Berenbaum, entered the game and retired three straight batters.
The Aces held a 1-0 lead until the fifth, when Bethesda plated two runs to go ahead. Alexandria equalized in the sixth thanks to Connor Offshack’s (Elon) RBI single, but the Big Train scored once more in the bottom half of the inning to take a 3-2 lead.
With two outs in the seventh, Koontz lofted a ball that curved towards the left-field line for a triple. Boyd hit a grounder right to the shortstop in the next at-bat, but the first baseman dropped the ball, which took a short hop, allowing Koontz to come home and tie the game.
Boyd, who started the game in left field, then pitched a shutout eighth inning that ended in a double play.
In 2021, the Aces made the championship but were swept by Bethesda. This year, celebrating their 15th season in the league, they finally broke through.
Bethesda Big Train