By Peter Rainey
The Alexandria Aces (14-2) returned to Cal Ripken League play last night after a two-day hiatus, meeting a cross-division foe in the Gaithersburg Giants (6-11). The Aces, riding a six-game winning streak into last night’s game, ate an early gut punch as the Giants’ bats drove four runs across in a second-inning rally. An inning later, the deficit grew to 5-0. Alexandria was playing in front of a great turnout at Frank Mann Field; 180 paid fans were on register for last night’s ballgame, but easily over 200 were in attendance as little leaguers entered for free due to the franchise’s collaboration with the local Fort Hunt Little League. With families enjoying an evening of Aces baseball, Gaithersburg appeared more than poised to play the role of spoiler.
That all changed in the bottom of the fourth inning. Opened by an RBI sacrifice fly from Tim Nicholson of George Washington University, the Aces would rally for a four-run inning of their own, bringing the game back within reach at 5-4. Aces’ Jonah Oster of Campbell University clutched a two-RBI single with two outs down.
“I was just trying to find pitches I could handle,” Oster said. “My first couple of at-bats, I was swinging at bad pitches, so I was really trying to find pitches in the zone that I could handle and get the job done.”
With both starters out of the game by the fifth inning, the game evolved into a battle of the bullpens—a pitcher’s duel with two very different approaches. The Giants stuck through until the ninth inning with just one reliever, Jackson Bauer of Catonsville CC. Bauer dealt masterfully, surrendering just two hits and no earned runs through four and a half innings of work. The Aces, on the other hand, utilized the arms of five different relievers down the stretch. A reliever tandem of Tucker Narkinsky of Tallahassee CC and Josh Rivera of UMBC combined to retire 12 straight Giants batters, cruising the Aces defense through the backstretch of the game before being relieved in the ninth inning. After exchanging four-run rallies in the early going of the game, both offenses had run dry. By the ninth inning, the game remained a 5-4 deficit for the Aces.
The first team to break ice in the ninth were the Gaithersburg Giants, who brought across one run of insurance on an RBI fielder’s choice hit by Kazuya Jordan of Virginia Military Institute. Arriving in the bottom of the ninth, the Aces trailed by two, 6-4. Aces’ lead-off man Tim Nicholson got aboard with a dribbler through the infield, and the Aces’ home crowd began to come alive. Two batters later, Gavin Miller of Auburn University pulled a line drive fair of the left field foul line for a double, advancing Nicholson to third and putting the tying run, himself, in scoring position. Next up, Aces’ Jonah Oster. Oster entered the batter’s box and laid good contact with back-to-back baseballs, the first falling just foul and the second landing fair. His second two-RBI single of the night brought Nicholson and Miller home, tying the game at 6-6. Oster would go on to steal second and enter scoring position, but the side was retired before he could do more—extra innings forced.
In the top of the tenth, the Aces turned to Michael Gillen, a rising sophomore out of Seton Hall. Gillen answered the call terrifically, retiring the Giants swiftly in three batters. Gillen would go on to be named the night’s winning pitcher—his first win of the season to go along with two saves.
With a chance to win it in the bottom frame of the tenth, the Aces went down two outs with no men on base. A single from Aces’ Nick Gregory of Ball State University gave the offense life, putting the winning run aboard. Following his act, Tim Nicholson grounded what should have been a routine inning-ending out to shortstop, but a critical E-6 put the throw to first in the dirt, and Nicholson advanced safely. With two on and two out, Aces’ RJ Hamilton, a Vanderbilt commit out of Hoover, Alabama, approached the plate with his head bobbing to “Russian Creme” by Key Glock—his coined walk-up song. Cool, calm, and collected, RJ crushed the first pitch he saw, sending a walk-off moon shot into the night over left field, a three-run home run.
“It feels so good that my work in the lab is all coming out to fruition,” Hamilton said. “It was a really good moment for me and my teammates . . . it’s special having the Alexandria community come out and support this team.”
Aces head coach Chris Berset offered high praise for Hamilton in the aftermath of the game: “What a special kid, very respectable young man; just credit to his parents for raising him so well. Vandy is getting a special one,” Berset said.
The Aces, now with their win streak extended to seven, will look to settle down from last night’s high before locking in for a road double-header this afternoon at the Olney Cropdusters. The Cropdusters, despite coming in off a loss last night against the Silver Spring Thunderbolts (5-11), lead the Northern Division with a 13-5 record. The Cropdusters gave the Aces their first loss of the new season on June 11th, a 6-4 defeat.
“We have a great team [today] that we’re playing in the Cropdusters,” Berset said. “Day in, day out, it’s a little bit of a grind.”
The Aces face a four-game road trip through Saturday before returning for an extended home stand, with games at the Frank July 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 7th, and 8th.
“We are looking forward to a well-attended home stand,” Aces Team President Frank Fannon said.