By Chris Hirons
WASHINGTON — It could have been the swing, the sound, or maybe even how the baseball climbed up and over the right field wall, because the DC Grays’ dugout was celebrating well before Scott Bandura’s (Princeton) grand slam slammed into the protective netting and fell behind the chain-linked fence in front of the road leading to John Philip Sousa Junior High School.
Once the ball landed, the scoreboard moved in the Grays’ favor on Saturday night, a mob of players in the dugout ran towards home plate or waited at the bottom of the steps. They smacked his helmet and his hands and his back and eventually let go of him as a smile beamed across his face. For a team that went through more downs than ups in the Grays’ five-game, week-long homestand, Bandura's homer picked the team up.
“This win was a huge momentum boost for us since we’ve been on a bit of a slide,” Bandura said, alluding to DC’s three-game losing streak coming in on Saturday night. “We’re swinging the bats well and the pitching is back on track. It’s going to be up from here.”
And it delivered a 9-4 win over the South County Braves, right when the Grays looked like they were about to waste another solid — if not good — outing from their starting pitcher. After Michael Eggert (Wofford) was perfect in his five innings of work in Thursday’s loss to the Silver Spring T-Bolts, and Jake Davidson’s (Kenyon) three-unearned run, seven inning loss against the Gaithersburg Giants on Friday, it was Tim Jinks (Drew) turn to deliver on the mound Saturday night.
He locked in and gave up four runs in six innings, a solid outing by anyone’s measure. He was matched pitch-for-pitch by Braves’ starter Kyle W. Lewis (Marymount) in his scoreless four innings of work. But this time the Grays were the ones who tormented against an opponent’s bullpen on the way to a comeback win.
They’re now 5-10 and, after dropping three straight games this week, are showing some signs of life.
Jinks worked around base runners in three scoreless frames with a fly out, ground out and a strike out. It wasn’t until he allowed a leadoff single in the fourth, which was followed by another single, and then a two-out, two-RBI double. Then, he yielded an RBI-single before ending the inning with a line-out to shortstop, stranding two South County runners on the corners.
The three-run fourth inning looked to be a decisive blow for a Grays team that had only plated a run in their past 15 innings. Other than the fourth inning, Jinks was dominant for the rest of the night.
The Grays nearly got to Lewis in the third inning after Peter Costigan (Charleston) and Kyle Chmielewski (Lafayette) reached on singles, but Lewis used an Evan Smith (West Virginia) flyout to strand both of them. And then they nearly got to him again in the fourth. After Drew Calhoun (Wofford) reached on a hit-by-pitch and Bandura singled with an out, they both moved up to second on a passed ball that reached the backstop. But two straight strikeouts left the Grays empty-handed once again.
South County pulled its starter after he began to fall behind hitters. But it was a move that didn’t quite pan out.
Dan Cote (Hartford) was the first Brave called out of the bullpen. The Grays’ fifth inning rally began with a single from Costigan and a sacrifice bunt from Max Power-Kruger (Morehead State) to move Costigan into scoring position. Next, Chmielewski was hit by a pitch to put runners at first and second, and Smith followed that up with a flyout. Tanner Sagouspe (Cal Poly-SLO) roped an RBI single up the middle to score Costigan, and then Calhoun was hit by another pitch to load the bases. Finally, Bandura strolled to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded.
“Thankfully, Drew Calhoun ate a pitch off his back to get me into that position,” Bandura said with a laugh and a smile.
Bandura’s last home run came in an extra-innings loss to South County last Sunday. Since then Bandura has been slumping and had just two hits in his last 11 at-bats. He was moved down in the order from the leadoff spot to the No. 5 hole on Saturday.
In his third at-bat of the night, he watched the first two pitches go by, both balls, before taking a hack and fouling off the third pitch. He watched another go by. Ball Three. Cote, trailing 3-1 in the count, tried to sneak a fastball by but Bandura didn’t miss it. His uppercut swing sent the ball flying to right field, and he admired his blast all the way down the first base line.
“Once the count went 2-0, I was just looking for something to hit,” Bandura said. “Luckily, the count moved to 3-1. One run would’ve been on a walk, but I knew I needed to stay aggressive and knew we were going to need a hit to take the lead, so I got a good pitch to drive and I just put a good swing on it.”
As he rounded the bases with pure joy and elation, all 150 Grays fans in the ballpark rose to their feet to cheer on Bandura. He pounded his fist into the air as he looked in towards the Grays’ dugout, which had already been emptied and was already in deep celebration. They knew it was gone as soon as they heard the crack of the bat, as did Bandura, and they couldn’t be held back.
With the season nearly halfway complete, this was the victory the Grays needed, a morale boost if that. They’ve been oh, so close to connecting the dots all season long, and have lost seven of their 10 games by just two runs or fewer.
Maybe Saturday’s game was the missing piece in the Grays’ offensive struggles. And maybe, just maybe, it can give the Grays the momentum they need to make some noise on the back half of their schedule.
The Grays will look for their second straight win as they travel to Bethesda to take on the first-place Big Train Sunday night. First pitch is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. at Shirley Povich Field.
By Chris Hirons
WASHINGTON — Dustin Mercer (Virginia Tech) smacked a tailor-made double play ground ball to Cam Bufford (Grambling) with runners on first and second, a double play ball that would have gotten the DC Grays and starter Jake Davidson (Kenyon) out of the first inning unscathed.
The Grays’ shortstop charged the grounder, squared up, and fired the ball towards Jahli Hendricks (Southern), who was covering second and awaiting Bufford’s throw. Instead of recording the second out of the inning, the throw was airmailed and sent into right field.
The error brought in a pair of runs on the play and, when paired with the DC Grays’ inability to hit when they needed to, were the deciding factors of their 3-1 loss to the Gaithersburg Giants on Friday night.
It was the only time Davidson looked anywhere near shaky in his one-hit, two-walk start, in which he yielded three unearned runs — the third run scored on a Sam Kaplan (Cornell) two-out, three-base error on a ball that bounced over his head in right field. It was a lead that two Giants pitchers — starter Matt Reich (Stevenson) and reliever Johnathan Martinez (Texas St.) — could protect. The result, in the teams’ fourth meeting of the year, was sour for a Grays team that has been close to connecting the dots all season long.
Friday marked the seventh time, in 10 total losses, in which the team dropped a game by three runs or fewer.
They failed to move runners in critical situations. Their Nos. 3, 4 and 5 hitters — Bufford, Kaplan and Jared Sprague-Lott (Richmond) — combined for five hits in 11 at-bats. The rest of the lineup picked up three hits in 18 at-bats. The bullpen, which has had its fair share of struggles this season, was fine. The offense, on Friday night at least, wasn’t.
The Grays, if all goes right, should spend the rest of the season in a five-way battle for second place in the Cal Ripken Collegiate League. They, the Alexandria Aces (8-6), Gaithersburg Giants (8-6), South County Braves (6-8) and Silver Spring T-Bolts (3-10) have yet to put a distance between second place and the rest of the league. The Bethesda Big Train (13-2), meanwhile, have pulled away at the top of the standings.
The Grays, if they can get hot at the right time, have as fair of a shot at second place as every other team. But Friday’s loss to the Giants stings just a little more. They could have gained a game on Gaithersburg and Alexandria for second place had the offense pulled through.
Yet the Grays couldn’t turn a strong start into much else. Bufford and Kaplan hit back-to-back singles with two outs in the bottom of the first, but were the first two of seven runners the Grays left stranded.
After Davidson allowed five of the first 12 batters he faced to reach base — three were on errors — he retired 16 of the next 17 batters before his outing came to an end at the conclusion of the seventh inning. He worked quickly and efficiently, forcing weak contact and recording 12 ground outs and seven fly outs. He threw just 81 pitches — 53 strikes — to the 27 batters he faced in seven innings.
But Reich and Martinez matched Davidson’s rhythm. On two occasions, Kaplan reached second base — once in the fourth and once in the sixth — with less than two outs. Both times, the Grays couldn’t score him. And, in the end, they paid for it.
DC began a mini-rally in the ninth, but that was shut down soon after it started. Sprague-Lott singled with one out and Tanner Sagouspe (Cal Poly) drove him in with a triple to right field with two outs. The bleak offensive night ended a batter later when Martinez struck out the final DC hitter of the night.
A night after the Grays seemed to be able to pick up any timely hit they wanted in the early innings in a loss to Silver Spring, they couldn’t buy one against Gaithersburg on Friday.
They'll try to right the ship on Saturday night, in another home match-up with the South County Braves. First pitch is at 7:00pm at the Nationals Youth Academy.
By Chris Hirons
WASHINGTON — It happened again, this one perhaps stung more than the others, and all the DC Grays could do was watch their bullpen and defense let another late lead slip through their grasp.
The steps toward it were agonizing. Three errors, a few questionable decisions, and, finally, a grand slam sealed the Grays’ fate in an extra-inning 12-5 loss against the Silver Spring T-Bolts at the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy Thursday night.
Reliever Frank Craska trotted out for his third inning of work in the top of the 10th after setting down six straight T-Bolt batters. In three of his six appearances, he’s been tasked with getting nine outs. In all three, he’s hardly had trouble with the first six outs, but those final three outs in a three-inning outing have eluded him.
The Grays’ bullpen remained dormant, even as Craska stood on the mound after throwing 46 pitches, and after he had given up the go-ahead, two-run double to Silver Spring’s Justin Carboni (Penn). Manager Reggie Terry removed him three hitters later after Craska had given up an RBI single, a runner reached on an error, and hit the last batter he faced.
The defense and the bullpen had already coughed up a four-run advantage the inning prior to Craska’s entrance. The Grays tied the score at five with a RBI single from Nehmeiah Wright (Grambling) in the eighth, but couldn’t pick up a timely hit when they needed it most. DC dropped to 4-10, and if there was a silver-lining by night’s end, it was that they’re still within three-and-a-half of second place in the Cal Ripken Collegiate League.
Fourteen games into a 36-game season sprint, and what can only be described as a rough start, the Grays have been unable to close out games they’ve held late lead in. They’ve lost six of their 10 games by just two runs or fewer. And in all six of those losses, the Grays led for at least two innings.
Terry threw outfielder Peter Costigan (Charleston) out on the mound for mop-up work with the bases loaded as the Grays trailed by three. Costigan gave up a grand slam to the first batter he faced, putting the game out of reach, but did his job by getting the final two outs and saved an arm for the Grays matchup against the South County Braves on Friday.
The night started out well for DC. Michael Eggert (Wofford) started for the Grays and turned in his best start of the summer. He was perfect through five innings and struck out nine of the 15 batters he faced on 62 pitches. The Grays built their lead with solo home runs from Jahli Hendricks (Southern) and Alex Rosen (Georgetown), a single from Brandon Gibbs (Delaware State), and a throwing error that scored Rosen from third.
Then their bullpen and defense buckled, and the lead melted away.
Joseph O’Connell (Harvard) was the second reliever to enter the game after newcomer Donavon Freyer (Shorter University) came on for Eggert and held the T-Bolts scoreless in the sixth. An error to begin O'Connell's inning of work allowed Carboni to reach base and then defensive collapse continued.
A passed ball allowed Carboni to score Silver Spring’s first run two batters later. After another error, a single, two doubles and five runs crossed the plate (all unearned) by the time the top of the seventh ended, the T-Bolts led 5-4.
The Grays came back and tied it in the eighth, but after Wright’s RBI single fell in front of Silver Spring’s center fielder to tie the score at five, the timely hits stopped falling for the Grays. To begin the ninth, Gibbs picked up a single that fell into right field and then was pinch-run for by Scott Bandura (Princeton). He swiped second with no outs, and then third with one out.
Rosen, who was up 3-0 in the count after Bandura stole third, struck out. And with two outs, Sabin Roane (Old Dominion) smacked a hard ground ball down the third base line that nearly stayed fair, and kept the Grays from burning themselves once again. He wasn’t able to pick up the elusive hit, however and struck out on the next pitch, stranding Bandura — the game-winning run — at third, putting a punctuation mark on another lost opportunity.
And then the offensive flood gates opened for the T-Bolts in the next half-inning. They scored seven runs and sent 12 batters to the plate before Costigan recorded the final out in the 10th.
Nonetheless, the disappointing start could still be righted with a sharp turnaround over the course of the next week. The Grays will look to right the ship against the Gaithersburg Giants Friday evening at the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy. First pitch is set for 7:00 p.m.
By Chris Hirons
WASHINGTON — Just over a third of the way into their season, as the sun set without a cloud in the sky into the twilight of a chilly summer night, the DC Grays were hurled around their ballpark that was silent for two-thirds of the night, aside from the constant buzz coming from the first base dugout.
The team at the top of the standings, the one that most teams are unable to compete with on a consistent basis, the Bethesda Big Train, was the one that did the hurling in a 13-1 win at the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy. Aside from Cooper Vest’s (BYU) three scoreless innings and his RBI single — the one that gave DC a quick 1-0 lead that vanished innings later — was just about all the Grays had to cheer for in three-and-a-half hours of mostly one-sided action.
Dylan Seisky (Lafayette), after relieving Vest and tasked with preserving the Grays’ advantage in the fourth, was tagged for five runs. Hasan Aquil (Lincoln), the second and final true pitcher to come out of the bullpen, allowed eight runs, while throwing 97 pitches in his 3 ⅔ innings of work. Bethesda collected nine hits and walked 12 times, compared with the five hits and 15 strikeouts the Grays had against starter Jake Eddington (Alabama) and four relievers.
Eddington, who had a 7.29 ERA with the Crimson Tide in 21 innings and an ERA of 10 in three starts with the Big Train this season, tossed three innings of one-run baseball. The Grays dropped to 4-9, and with only 37 games on the schedule, a slow start could have adverse consequences in a playoff-seeding race that’s beginning to take shape.
But even with the playoff race beginning to unfold, Wednesday night’s loss wasn't totally unexpected.
The Big Train has the league’s best offense, one that ranks at the top in just about every category. They have the league’s best pitching, on average the staff allows one fewer run per game than second-place Gaithersburg. And they have the league’s best defense, which hardly miscommunicates and rarely commits bone-headed errors.
For a moment — three innings to be exact — it seemed like the Grays could have handed the Big Train just their third loss in 15 games. After Vest threw 15 pitches on Monday in relief, it appeared that DC’s manager, Reggie Terry, was saving his club’s best arm for Wednesday's matchup against the league’s premier team.
Vest, who sits in second in league ERA, only trailing teammate Tucker Alch for the top spot, was pulled after his third inning of work. He was in the midst of a fourth straight scoreless start, one in which he sat the first four Big Train hitters down in order before a throwing error gave Bethesda its first base runner. He didn’t let the error affect his start and worked around it and a two-out single in the second inning.
Those were the only base runners Vest would allow to reach base in his brief stint on the mound. He was untouchable after that, and settled in the next inning, forcing the No. 9, No. 1 and No. 2 hitters into soft outs.
He helped himself out in the second inning, too. In the lineup as the designated hitter, Vest blooped a single that fell in between the right fielder, center field and second baseman to score Jared Sprague-Lott (Richmond).
After shutting down the league’s best offense for the first three innings, Vest didn’t walk out to the mound for the next inning. Terry hasn’t let Vest work too deep into games this season. After all, Vest is coming off elbow surgery in 2020, which was what kept him off the mound for BYU in the spring. Aside from Opening Day, though, Terry has given Vest a longer leash and permitted him to throw five innings in his next two starts — the latest one coming against the South County Braves last Wednesday.
Instead of allowing Vest to work deeper, Terry turned to Seisky, who — in a bullpen that’s had its issues — has become his most trusted reliever. After pitching a scoreless fourth inning, the wheels started falling off. He started the fifth with two quick outs — a ground out and a strikeout — and then issued a free pass to the No. 9 hitter in the lineup and then another to Bethesda’s lead off hitter. On the first pitch he threw to No. 2 hitter Kyle Velazquez (St. Mary’s), he was forced to turn around and watch the ball fly out of the yard.
Two more runs scored on the second home run Seisky yielded in the inning before he was able to get out of the inning with a flyout.
The offense, meanwhile, had no answers for Eddington and a quartet of Big Train relievers. After giving up the RBI single in the second, he pitched around Scott Bandura’s (Princeton) lead-off single in the third to strand him on the bases. He was yanked before the fourth and was followed by Zach Locke (2 ⅔ innings), Everett Catlett (one-third of an inning), Josh Grosz (two innings) and Jesse Barron (one inning), who retired the final 17 hitters of the game, nine of whom were set down on strikes.
Cam Bufford (Grambling) stayed hot, picking up a single against Locke (Long Beach) to lead off the fourth, and is now six for his last 12. But Bufford was erased on a double play ball which started the string of the final 17 DC hitters that were retired in a row.
Wednesday’s loss was just a single game in a larger season. Aquil, who was fifth on the team in ERA entering play, was knocked around for eight runs in his 3 ⅔ innings of mop-up work that began in the sixth. Seisky proved that even the most trusted relievers can have struggles every once in a while. An unpredictable offense — set ablaze on Monday, torpid on Wednesday — isn’t unexpected in a sport that requires hitters to hit a round ball, with a round bat, square.
The Grays will have another shot to figure it out on Thursday, when they look to get back in the win column and host the Silver Spring T-Bolts. First pitch is scheduled for 7:00 p.m.
By Chris Hirons
WASHINGTON -- On the 16th day and in the 12th game of the 2021 Cal Ripken Collegiate League season, the DC Grays pieced together a reusable winning formula at home.
The return home mattered. The Grays needed a change of scenery, of direction, of results, really, and they got that in an 8-6 win over the Alexandria Aces on Monday night that improved the club’s record to 4-8. DC had come off a weekend in which they were blown out and walked off in a doubleheader on Saturday, and then walked off again on Sunday night after surrendering three separate leads.
This one was kick-started by Jake Davidson (Kenyon) — who struck out four in six innings — and was preserved, in the end, by Cooper Vest (BYU) and Dylan Seisky (Lafayette).
Aces starter Brendan Beaver (Lansing Community College) held the Grays to just three runs (two earned) in four innings. But they chased Beaver early, working long at-bats, and scored five in a two-hit, four-walk fifth inning, and matched strong pitching with timely offense and a bullpen that didn’t cave. Sometimes, it takes a few weeks to get your bearings.
Fans braved the looming, dark clouds that hovered above the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy. They stayed even after the Grays had lost a suspended game that was made up before the start of Monday’s scheduled nine inning game that was reduced to a seven-inning game with the threatening weather that lingered in the distance.
Yet, it was sort of a beginning for the Grays. They had stumbled out of the gates, losing eight of their first 12 games, marked by untimely hitting and bullpen issues. Not to mention, Monday night was DC’s seventh game in six days. The Grays didn’t and couldn’t have used an off-day during the middle of the week to ease into Saturday’s doubleheader. Instead, they were ready to go.
The Grays turned to Davidson, the junior right-hander, who had limited the league’s best offense, the Bethesda Big Train, to just three runs (one earned) on Thursday. He doesn’t have overpowering stuff to blow away hitters. He uses his smooth mechanics and mixes in his fastball and off-speed pitches, and often lets the defense he has behind him do the rest.
Davidson gave up four runs in the first two innings, including a two-run homer in the second, but found his rhythm later on.
He allowed a one-out walk in the second to Blake McRae (Lansing Community College) but he’d be the Aces’ last base runner until Matt Stone (Georgetown) singled to lead off the fifth. Between those at-bats, Davidson set down six straight hitters – on 13 pitches no less — and the Grays inched back.
Beaver’s control began to slip as he issued a walk to catcher Burke Camper (Towson) and allowed a single to Cam Bufford (Grambling). They both later scored in the inning – Drew Calhoun (Wofford) doubled to drive in Camper and Bufford was singled home by Vince DiLeonardo (Elon). Calhoun scored on a throwing error from third by Stone, who was attempting to cut down DiLeonardo on a stolen base attempt.
That was the Grays’ last threat against Beaver, who was pulled after throwing 67 pitches for the likes of Ben Koomey (RIT). The Aces’ final rally came in the fifth — they had already led 4-3 coming into the inning — and added two more runs on three singles from Garrett Farquhar (Auburn), Stone and McRae.
Trailing by four runs, and with just under three innings to play, a fire lit under the Grays’ offense. They came out with a patient approach against Koomey, who walked Scott Bandura (Princeton), Robbie Wacker (Emory) and Patrick Vandenbergh (Lafayette) to begin the inning.
A fielders’ choice to third base by Camper drove in Bandura to pull the Grays to within two runs. DC has had its problems with timely hitting so far this season but seemed to turn the corner on Sunday in the loss to the Braves. The Grays broke multiple ties before the pitching fell apart in the 12th inning.
On Monday, too, timely hits weren’t hard to come by. Bufford drove a double to the right-center field gap that scored Vandenbergh and Camper home to tie the score at five. And later in the frame, Kenny Bell (Southeastern Louisiana) drove home the go-ahead run by hustling out a ground ball that the Aces’ third baseman had to hurry a throw on.
Davidson bounced back in the sixth with a shutdown inning, and was pulled after 79 pitches after yielding two walks. The second walk he surrendered was with one out and a wild pitch allowed Scott Morgan (George Mason) to scamper to third. But that’s where Davidson settled down.
He struck out Stone on three pitches and forced McRae to flyout to medium-deep center field to keep the Grays’ two-run lead intact.
Not wanting to let Monday’s win slip from the club’s grasp, manager Reggie Terry called on Vest to start the seventh on the mound. Since slipping on a Grays uniform, Vest has been the team’s ace and its most dominant pitcher. He last pitched seven days ago, and with the Grays’ off-day on Tuesday, Terry decided that it’d be best for Vest to get some work in before his next start.
He threw 10 pitches and recorded two outs before Terry turned to the best bullpen arm he has, Seisky, for the final out of the ball game. And without any drama, or doubt, Seisky recorded the final out and the game was sealed.
It was a win the Grays felt good about, from start to finish, from their starter to their lineup to the two pitchers that came on in relief. And that, too, was a change.
The DC Grays return to the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy against the Bethesda Big Train on Wednesday night. First pitch is set to be thrown at 7:00 p.m.
By Chris Hirons
FAIRFAX, Va. — Burke Camper (Towson) sprinted towards the backstop, chasing a baseball that he wasn’t able to catch, before slowing down once he reached the fence. Some 15 feet away, Nehemiah Wright (Grambling) stood at the plate, eyes wide, hoping Camper could corral the ball and throw out the winning run to send the game into a 13th inning. But the ball never arrived.
Quinn Madden (Hartford) slid head-first across the plate after Wright bounced the baseball in front of the plate, lifting the South County Braves over the DC Grays, 10-9, on Sunday night at South County High School.
Wright put his head down and looked at the baseball in his glove for a moment. He had been handed a three-run lead in the 12th inning after Drew Calhoun’s (Wofford) two-run blast the half inning prior gave the Grays the lead and Patrick Vandenburgh (Lafayette) scored on an error to stretch the lead to three.
It was Wright’s first collegiate appearance on the mound. He was called on to pitch the 12th inning, succeeding Kai Cummings’ (Mount St. Mary’s) five brilliant innings in relief, and to help a taxed bullpen that had thrown 8 ⅔ innings in a doubleheader on Saturday. But it just wasn’t enough.
DC’s bullpen coughed up yet another victory the Grays had within their grasp — the fourth occurrence in the team’s last eight games — and was walked-off for the second time in as many days. This falter dropped DC to 3-6, and it came after relievers Vince DiLeonardo (Elon) and Cummings worked a combined six innings of one-run ball to back Tim Jinks’ (Drew) best start all season.
With the season in a 37-game sprint, and with the Grays falling into fifth place in the league, trailing the Bethesda Big Train by six games, something needs to change for the Grays — and it needs to happen rather quickly.
But when you play seven games in six games in five days, and with just 12 true arms in the bullpen to lean on, days like Saturday and Sunday are bound to happen occasionally. Earlier in the week, it seemed like the bullpen had it figured out after blowing a six-run advantage to South County at home on Wednesday.
On Thursday, Jinks and Cummings impressed by allowing three runs in 4 ⅓ innings against Bethesda’s seemingly unstoppable offense. And on Friday, Dylan Seisky (Lafayette) worked around a two-out walk and Frank Craska (Lafayette) allowed two unimportant runs in a 7-2 win over Silver Spring.
Playing its fourth and fifth game in four days, the true pitchers in DC’s bullpen gave up 10 runs (six earned) in two games on Saturday in Gaithersburg. And all of a sudden, the bullpen woes were back.
The start to Sunday’s eventual loss was ideal as Jinks worked around a lead-off single and walk to keep the Braves off the scoreboard. DC’s offense gave Jinks a lead to protect with a pair of runs in the third and fourth. Vandenburgh went deep for a solo blast — his first of the season — and Jay Tarkenton (Old Dominion) scored on a passed ball in the third. And in the fourth, Scott Bandura (Princeton) added on to the lead with a two-run blast that landed on top of the hill in right-center field.
He would toss four more innings and was in line for the win after allowing three runs (zero earned) in five innings. He finished his fifth and final inning, stranding two runners in scoring position with the lead intact, 4-3.
Then DiLeonardo, a position player who made his debut on the mound on Saturday, stranded two base runners and worked a scoreless sixth; Cummings worked the seventh through 11th innings, but allowed the tying runs to score in the ninth to send Sunday night into extra frames.
Cummings worked around eight hits and three walks to help the Grays keep their bullpen as fresh as possible for the upcoming week. He struck out seven to keep the game within reach for the Grays, who scored three runs in the 12th inning, putting Cummings in the drivers seat for the win.
Down Joe Richardson (Southern) who’s dealing with an arm injury, the bullpen received encouraging signs from its middle relievers, DiLeonardo and Cummings. They both created messes and cleaned them by the end of each frame. Wright couldn’t do the same.
He walked four batters and threw several pitches to the backstop, but managed to get two outs and even had the Braves’ down to their last strike. But South County battled back, scoring four runs on walks and wild pitches before Madden dove across the plate to seal the comeback win for the Braves.
The surge up the standings — if there is one this summer — will have to wait another day.
The DC Grays return home Monday night with a continuation game from June 14 against the Alexandria Aces that begins at 6:30 p.m. That game is tied at nine in the top of the 13th inning. Once that game concludes, the Grays will play a full nine inning game against the Aces. Both games will be played at the Grays’ home park, the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy.
By Daniel Butler
GAITHERSBURG, Va. – The DC Grays were fresh off a dominant victory Friday night, one that ended a losing streak and had them feeling as scorching hot as the sun beaming down on them Saturday afternoon. The team came to Gaithersburg for an afternoon doubleheader set on being above .500 and climbing up the league standings with two victories.
The hometown Giants had other ideas, however – and the result was a Gaithersburg sweep that sent the Grays back to DC with a 3-6 record.
Game 1 began how Grays fans have come to expect: a quick, dominant first inning of work by the starting pitcher, Michael Eggert (Wofford). Thereafter, however, things began to fall apart.
The Giants plated four runs in the second and third. All of this was occurring while the Grays bats stayed silent, the team mustering only four baserunners in the first four innings of play on just a single hit.
As DC was looking to bounce back from the early deficit, a familiar face came out of the bullpen – righthander Joseph O’Connell (Harvard). O’Connell’s appearance began not unlike the pitcher that preceded him – a solid scoreless outing followed by a crushing slew of runs.
The fifth inning of the ballgame, and O’Connell’s second, was marked with a pair of errors by second baseman Max Power-Kruger (Holy Cross) that led to an eventual four unearned runs for O’Connell and a greater deficit for the DC Grays. The sixth inning only got worse as the Giants boomed a pair of two-run homers over the wall to tack on four runs to their lead.
The Grays bats made some efforts to get back in the game. The fifth inning featured a flurry of baserunners as six Grays reached first base; however, a double play followed by an eventual three men left on base got the Grays no more than two runs on the inning.
The offense followed up with another three runs across the next three innings, but it was too little, too late for DC. The final was 15-5. Grays catcher Burke Camper (Towson) swung the bat well, going two for four and driving in a run. The pair of hits raised his average to .385 on the still-young season.
The nightcap of the twinbill was much closer, but the result still was not what the Grays faithful was hoping for.
After another quiet first inning, the Grays offense got going in the second. Hot-hitting Jay Tarkenton (Old Dominion) singled and came around to score on an RBI single by Jahlil Hendricks (Southern), giving the Grays their first lead of the day. Unfortunately, the team left the bases loaded – squandering a chance to take on more. DC plated another run in the third to go up 2-0 when Ben Avila (Grambling) drove in Robby Wacker (Emory) before the Grays stranded two more runners to end the frame.
Lefty starter Hasan Aquil (Lincoln) gave the Grays a solid outing – throwing 3.2 innings of one-run ball. (The run was unearned.) He was relieved by Andrew Calhoun (Wofford), who gave up one in 1.1 innings of work.
In the fifth the Grays scored on another RBI hit by Avila, before the Giants answered back to tie the game. It stayed tied through the end of seventh innings (the back-end of Ripken League doubleheaders are seven-inning contests) and the game went into extra innings.
The Grays struck first. A pair of singles by Kenny Bell (Southeastern Louisiana) and Scott Bandura (Princeton), helped by a passed ball that allowed Bell to get in scoring position, gave DC a 4-3 lead.
Yet again, the Gaithersburg Giants bats stepped in to rain on the Grays’ parade.
Pitcher Frank Craska (Lafayette) came out for his third inning of work, and it was one inning too many. Three hits and a costly Grays error added up to two runs and a walk-off win for the Giants. A long day in the hot sun and evening shade yielded only a pair of disappointing losses for the visitors.
The Grays look to bounce back on Father’s Day Sunday as they travel to Lorton, VA to take on the South County Braves at 7:00pm at South County High School.
By Chris Hirons
WASHINGTON — The cheers were loud, and for good reason, while Tucker Alch (Catholic) made his final walk to the dugout Friday night. He had done this six times already, after each of his six clean innings, and now exited after recording the final out in the seventh to a standing ovation from the DC Grays’ dugout and its fans scattered across the stands at the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy.
All 243 onlookers appreciated his effort — no runs in seven frames — but also recognized its continued significance for his team. When Alch pitches well, and for more than a few innings at a time, the Grays have another top-flight arm to lean on. That matters when a team that plays seven games in six days has just 13 arms that it can use.
The Grays knew that they were getting a quality pitcher when they landed Alch in the offseason. He threw 51 ⅓ innings with a 1.40 ERA for Catholic in 2021. And a 7-2 win over the Silver Spring T-Bolts provided further evidence of that.
Combine his performance with lefty Cooper Vest (BYU), who leads the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League in innings pitched and ranks third in ERA, and you just might have the best 1-2 pitching duo in the league.
It was Alch’s longest start since May 8 — he pitched Catholic to a 7-0 victory over Moravian — and home runs from CJ Mervilus (Grambling) and Jay Tarkenton (Old Dominion) helped turn it into a victory. It was his third straight summer league start — including three innings of a suspended game against the South County Braves — of throwing three-plus innings of shutout baseball. Had Alch’s start against the Braves counted, he would lead the league in innings pitched (14) and ERA (0.00).
As the bullpen figures its kinks out in the first few weeks of the season, the starting pitching knew it needed to step up. It responded at a crucial point early in the season and has a combined 1.83 ERA in its last 19 ⅔ innings.
Over the past week, DC received the major boost it needed from its starting pitching — Tim Jinks (Drew) threw three innings of three-run ball on Monday; Vest gave his all in five scoreless on Wednesday; Jake Davidson (Kenyon) chipped in on Thursday, allowing three runs (one earned) in 4 ⅔ innings; and on Friday, Alch didn’t yield a single base runner until the fifth inning and gave up his first hit with two outs in the sixth.
The Grays came into the season with questions surrounding their pitching, a shaky way to begin the season, but Alch’s consistency has given DC a major lift and made a case for him to become the team’s ace.
His outing started with a 12-pitch first inning that ended with a leaping grab for a high chopper that he fielded at the front of the mound. He took his time on the throw and pumped his fist when the ball nestled into first baseman Cal Rucker’s (Georgetown) glove. And then he was off.
Alch mixed his fastball and off-speed pitches — almost to perfection — all evening. He struck out nine, one of them being a red-hot Naighel Calderon (Hawaii) in the fourth inning, who entered play with the seventh-best average in the league (.385). His bid for a perfect game ended with an out in the fifth when third baseman Alex Rosen’s (Georgetown) took Rucker’s foot off the bag. And his no-hit bid ended with a hard line drive that was smacked five feet over Mervilus’ head at short with two outs in the sixth.
Alch lasted another four outs before exiting to high-fives and bear hugs in the Grays’ dugout. He kept his head high as he walked into the dugout. Dylan Siesky (Lafayette) worked around a two-out walk in the eighth inning to keep the game scoreless. Frank Craska (Lafayette) allowed two runs as he recorded the final three outs to give the Grays their first win since Sunday.
After Alch recorded the first out of the fifth inning, he had officially completed the longest start for any DC starter this season, and it only grew by night’s end.
He clicked for Catholic during its regular season in 2021, and continues to keep clicking for the Grays.
The DC Grays take on the Gaithersburg Giants in a doubleheader at Criswell Field on Saturday, and then go to Lorton to play the South County Braves on Sunday. DC returns home on Monday night to play the Alexandria Aces.
By Chris Hirons
WASHINGTON — In the eighth inning, Nehemiah Wright (Grambling) smacked an 0-2 single to right field to score Kenny Bell (Southeastern Louisiana) to finally put the DC Grays on the scoreboard — a place they hadn't been all evening. In the ninth, Wright strolled to plate as the tying-run, but struck out looking on a questionable strike call that appeared to miss the zone high-and-away.
The Grays’ (2-4) trailed the entire way in a 6-4 loss to the Bethesda Big Train (8-1). The game was full of missed opportunities, missed pitches and a missed call in the guts of DC's attempt at a ninth inning comeback just two batters prior.
DC’s dugout stood up in unison to chirp at the first base umpire. A few players leaned over the dugout railing, and smacked it with closed and open palms. And Robbie Wacker (Emory) threw up a “safe” motion with his arms as he pleaded for an appeal before walking back to the dugout.
Wacker was still called out after grounding into a double play with the bases loaded, but had clearly beat the second baseman’s return throw by a step or two with Bell, who reached on an error and drove in a run, in the on-deck circle. Nonetheless the damage was done and the blown call halted the Grays’ momentum at a possible five-run comeback.
Had the Grays pushed any of their 11 baserunners across the plate in the earlier innings, had they picked up more than two hits in the first six innings, or had they not waited until the last three innings to inflict damage into Bethesda's pitching staff, maybe the blown calls wouldn’t have mattered.
Nine of DC’s 11 runners reached base in the seventh inning or later. Two came in the seventh, two more came in the eighth and the other five came in the final frame, where the Grays scored three of their four runs on Thursday night.
For a team with aspirations of a league championship at the end of the season, it knows that it can’t have more offensive showings like it did against Bethesda’s starter Noah Carabajal (Long Beach State) who threw five scoreless innings and only allowed two hits.
The pitching staff — especially Thursday’s starter Jake Davidson (Kenyon) who threw 4 ⅔ innings of three-run (one earned) ball — did all it could to keep the score at a manageable deficit. Tim Jinks (Drew) and Kai Cummings (Mount St. Mary’s) combined to allow just three runs in 5 ⅓ innings of work out of the bullpen.
Ryan Lynch (Notre Dame), who relieved Carabajal in the sixth, shut the offense down before the Grays broke through the pitching staff’s armor. Right fielder Sam Kaplan (Cornell), who paces the offense in numerous categories, led off the seventh inning with a base hit against the Big Train’s Zach Locke. Catcher Burke Camper (Towson) followed Kaplan’s knock with a single of his own and suddenly, out of seemingly nowhere, the Grays were in business.
But Locke locked-in with the task at hand and struck Cam Bufford (Grambling) out on four pitches, forced Jared Sprague-Lott (Richmond) into a flyout and got Patrick Vandenbergh (Lafayette) to line out to the perfectly shaded shortstop — that almost lifted the crowd to its feet — to end the frame with nothing to show in the score column.
But in the eighth, DC finally broke through on the scoreboard with Wright’s RBI single, and inched closer in the ninth inning.
Camper began the inning with a lead-off walk, which Bufford and Jay Tarkenton (Old Dominion) followed up with singles to load the bases with no outs. Vandenbergh drove Camper home with a perfectly-placed opposite field single that snuck through the hole between Bethesda's shortstop and third baseman.
And with the Grays trailing by four with no outs and the bases still loaded, Wacker drove in a run but was retired — on a throw he likely beat out — with the controversial 6-4-3 double play the Big Train turned.
DC pushed across its final run after Bell beat out an errant throw from Bethesda’s third baseman. And down to its last out, DC couldn’t catch a break from the home plate umpire who had called — what should have been ball two — strike three to Wright to end it.
The Grays look to get back in the win column when they host the Silver Spring T-Bolts on Friday night at 7:00 p.m. at the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy.
By Chris Hirons
WASHINGTON — In a week where the DC Grays were playing their best baseball, on a day where they could get back over the .500 mark for the first time since Opening Day, in a game where they were facing a 1-5 opponent, it all went wrong.
The bullpen melted down — once again — in an 8-6 loss to the South County Braves (2-5) that kept DC’s and players standing around in the outfield, talking about the loss for 30 grueling minutes after catcher Ben Avila (Grambing) struck out looking at a curveball down the middle of the plate to end Wednesday night’s ballgame.
The demolition came just when the Grays (2-3) seemed ready to contend with the top dogs in the Cal Ripken Collegiate League. Instead, the Grays find themselves closer to the bottom of the league than the top.
Hasan Aquil (Lincoln) surrendered a two-run lead and the decisive blow — a grand slam in the seventh by the Braves’ Nic Ericsson — but it began before Aquil ran out to toe the rubber with an out left to record in the inning.
The meltdown started with a familiar face — Joseph O’Connell (Harvard) — who due to the cancellation of the Ivy League season has yet to throw a pitch at the collegiate level. He has been up and down thus far this summer. Aquil, who’s more of a crafty left-hander that doesn’t overpower hitters by blowing fastballs by, had his troubles as well.
The loss seemed almost improbable after the Grays’ built a 6-0 lead by scoring all six runs on singles in the first inning.
The six-run lead lasted up until the sixth inning when O’Connell was called on from the bullpen, replacing starter Cooper Vest (BYU), who had turned in his third solid outing in as many appearances. The BYU left-hander departed after throwing five shutout innings of two-hit, six strikeout ball. Yet at the end of the night all he had to show for it was another no-decision.
O’Connell allowed the advantage to be slimmed to 6-3 when Ericsson hit his first home run of the night, a three-run shot that the outfielders could only turn around and watch.
Right after Ericsson’s homer, O’Connell allowed a single but quickly bounced back by getting the next batter to fly out to medium-deep left field to end the inning.
Manager Reggie Terry couldn’t turn to closer Frank Craska (Lafayette) after he pitched three innings in the suspended 12-inning marathon on Monday night, nor could he turn to Joe Richardson (Southern), who’s dealing with an arm injury.
With the Grays’ playing six games on six consecutive days, Terry knew that going deep into his bullpen on Wednesday could have severe consequences by the end of the week so sent O’Connell back out to work the seventh.
O’Connell hadn’t made an appearance since giving up six runs on seven hits in two innings in an extra-innings loss to the Gaithersburg Giants last Saturday, but he delivered favorable results on June 7 against the Silver Spring T-Bolts where he pitched a scoreless eighth inning.
Terry sent O’Connell back out to the mound to find his stuff, but unfortunately it never came. The inning started off with loud contact — a double to No. 7 hitter Jonathan Fisher. Then, he issued a walk to the next batter and then a single to the next.
It looked like he had found his groove, striking out the Braves’ leadoff hitter Cooper Benzin with the bases loaded. And then he forced the next batter to hit a sacrifice fly to right field.
No harm, no foul, right? The Grays still led by two runs with two outs and runners on the corners. Terry gave O’Connell one final chance, one final batter. But the move to pull him was at least one hitter too late.
He issued a six-pitch walk to re-load the bases before Terry retrieved him for Aquil. By the end of his outing, O’Connell had surrendered five hits and two walks on 47 pitches.
Aquil jogged in from the home bullpen out in left field — his last appearance came in Silver Spring on Sunday where he threw a scoreless inning. His task: force a red-hot, right-handed hitting Ericsson into an out to keep the Grays’ two-run lead intact.
Ericsson made contact with the first pitch Aquil threw. He just missed the sweet spot and fouled it off. On the second pitch, Ericsson swung again and didn’t miss.
He launched a fastball up-and-over the left field fence. Everyone in the ballpark knew it was gone as soon as it left the bat. And in one swing, a game the Grays felt that they had in their hands, fell out of their grasp.
Aquil recorded the final out of the inning two batters later, but the damage had been done. All told in O’Connell’s one-and-two-thirds innings of work, all seven runners he was responsible for had scored.
The Grays tried to battle back, putting a base runner on in the seventh and bringing the go-ahead and winning runs to the plate in the eighth and ninth. But once Ericsson’s second blast left the yard, it seemed all but over.
The bullpen’s struggles overshadowed a six-run outburst in a five-hit, four-walk first inning, where the Grays played it safe, moving runners station-to-station. Cam Bufford (Grambling) and Max Power (Holy Cross) both picked up RBI singles, while Sam Kaplan (Cornell) and Evan Smith (West Virginia) drove in two runners with their singles. And the meltdown gave DC a loss it can ill afford to have against one of the younger, less experienced teams in the league.
If the Grays felt good about the progress they made in the past week, if the defense, the pitching and the timely hitting had jumpstarted the hopes of making a deep run into the postseason, this was a reminder of how low a team could feel — and how quickly.
The Grays host the Bethesda Big Train Thursday night at the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy. First pitch is set for 7 p.m. This is the make-up game for last Friday's rain-out.