By Chris Hirons
ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Joseph O’Connell (Harvard) was two outs — just a ground ball double play — away from finishing his third inning of work after he was called on to relieve DC Grays’ starter Joey Craska (NJIT) following a lengthy rain delay in the top of the fourth. O’Connell already tossed two scoreless innings before giving up a game-tying homer in the sixth.
After surrendering the two-run home run, O’Connell walked the next batter before recording the first out of the inning on a ground ball to first base. He could have chosen to work around the Alexandria Aces’ next hitter, Connor Offshack (Elon), to set up a potential inning-ending double play, but instead O’Connell chose to go after him. It almost worked out as he pumped two pitches by — two swings and misses — before leaving a curveball up in the zone, a mistake O’Connell later told DC pitching coach Andre Rabouin he’d like to have back. Offshack made O’Connell pay by singling up the middle to drive in the runner on second to give the Aces a 5-4 lead.
The single and the misplaced pitch gave the Aces all the life they needed in a 10-run sixth inning on the way to a 12-4 seven-inning victory over the Grays at Frank Mann Field. O’Connell lasted 2 ⅓ innings and was dominant in the two scoreless innings he tossed, striking out four of the six batters he faced.
He was left out on the bump for an inning too long, though. Hasan Aquil (Lincoln) and Vince DiLeonardo (Elon), the latter playing in his last game with DC before heading to school early, combined to pitch the final 1 ⅔ innings for the Grays on Wednesday night. Over the final four innings, the Grays’ offense registered just five base runners and a run. It was a sharp contrast to DC’s 15-10 win over the South County Braves on Monday night, in which the offense scored 12 runs and picked up 15 hits in the final six innings.
And then, after throwing 35 pitches on Sunday against Bethesda and 23 pitches combined in the fourth and fifth innings Wednesday, fatigue caught up to him. O’Connell hasn’t thrown a collegiate pitch after the Ivy League canceled its 2020 and 2021 seasons due to Covid concerns. His command slipped, mixed with a few unfavorable calls, as his fastball and his off-speed pitches flattened out.
Nick Brown (Wisconsin-Milwaukee) was making his fourth start of the season for Alexandria, and has had his fair share of control issues, issuing 12 free passes in 9 ⅓ innings. The Grays capitalized on it and walked five times and scored three runs against Brown. Brown was pulled and a plethora of arms in the Aces’ bullpen allowed just a single run in the 6 ⅓ innings it was responsible for.
Craska, who was making his first start of the summer for the Grays, also struggled with his command in the first inning. He issued three free passes and allowed two runs to score before settling in during the second and third innings. He was sent out to toss the fourth inning before a mixture of lightning and rain sent the game into a delay. He left the game with a 3-2 advantage on the scoreboard.
When O’Connell came in for his first inning of work, he was playing with a one-run lead, and as he began his second inning, the Grays had increased his margin for error after scoring a run on a sacrifice fly in the top of the fifth. Burke Camper (Towson) and Sam Kaplan (Cornell) reached on back-to-back singles with one out. Peter Costigan (Charleston) was able to score Camper on the sacrifice fly, but the Grays left Kaplan stranded at third. The timely hits, and baserunners in general, seemed to have stopped falling once the game resumed from the delay.
Coming out of the delay, the Grays were forced to turn to their bullpen, which along with timely hitting, have seemed to be their achilles heel(s) all season long. And, on Wednesday, it felt as if both of their achilles heels sank them again.
The Grays travel to Gaithersburg on Thursday to face the Giants at Criswell Automotive Field at Kelly Park. First pitch is 7:00pm.