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.