Cooper Vest (left) and Scott Bandura (right) go over an outfield drill with Mamie Johnson Little League members.
By Chris Hirons
WASHINGTON — On a neighborhood baseball field, where more grass than dirt covered the infield, behind Kimball Elementary School in Southeast Washington, D.C., a young player ran out to center field to meet up with his teammates and to take part in a drill conducted by two DC Grays outfielders.
“What’s your name,” the player asked in a high-pitched tone.
“I’m Cooper. My friend Scottie and I are here to teach you to become a better baseball player,” the former No. 1 outfield recruit in Utah responded. The player looked down and then back up at the Grays’ outfielder. At last, he shrugged and took a knee in the freshly-cut outfield grass, ready to listen to what Cooper Vest (BYU), one of the Grays’ best pitchers, and Scott Bandura (Princeton), arguably the Grays’ best hitter, had to say next.
The same question was repeated more than a handful of times at the four different stations during the DC Grays clinic with young baseball players that belong to the Mamie Johnson Little League, a youth baseball organization that serves families in Ward 7, where Division 1 baseball players Kyle Chmielewski (Lafayette), Evan Smith (West Virginia), Joey Craska (New Jersey Institute of Technology), Frank Craska (Lafayette) and Teddy Blumenauer (Towson) and softball player Mo’ne Davis (Hampton), worked with its young players to improve their skills.
“[My favorite part] had to be learning about all the different skill levels, as well as approaches to life, not even just baseball,” Vest said. “I’m from [Utah], and coming [to D.C.], I love it. I absolutely loved seeing the pure smiles on these kids' faces.”
Most of the players wore the jerseys and hats given out by the Mamie Johnson Little League — mainly Washington Nationals-related gear. Mamie Johnson Little League is a strong supporter of DC Grays RBI - the MLB RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) program, run by the DC Grays in Washington, DC. The Grays are the only summer college baseball team in the US that also runs an RBI chapter for MLB. The Grays have run Washington D.C.’s RBI program since they partnered with Major League Baseball in 2016 and offer the most economically disadvantaged kids with the chance to play baseball for free. Many Mamie Johnson LL kids participate in the DC Grays RBI Junior Travel Baseball and Junior Softball programs in the summer and fall.
Chmielewski and Smith ran through a few different infield drills with the players. Davis, who plays second base for the softball team at Hampton University, and Joey Craska taught hitting lessons. Blumenauer and the elder Craska worked with the pitchers behind the first base dugout. And Vest and Bandura were, of course, beyond second base and in the outfield grass, helping out with the outfielders and cracking jokes with the kids.
"The clinic was great," said Keith Barnes, the founder and President of Mamie Johnson Little League (and also a coach with DC Grays RBI). "The Grays players were great, and our kids really got a lot out of it. This is just another example of the terrific partnership between our league and the Grays."
The clinic took place at Jackie Robinson Field, where the Grays and Mamie Johnson are working with the DC Department of Parks and Rec on a plan for several new upgrades to both the baseball and softball fields. A Memorandum of Agreement is being drafted between DC Grays Baseball and DPR which will initiate a series of improvements to the fields - including new dugouts, new bullpens, the installation of stands and scoreboards at both fields.
For more information on the DC Grays RBI initiative click here.
Evan Smith (left, West Virginia) and Kyle Chmielewski (right, Lafayette) explain an infield drill.
Kyle Chmielewski (Lafayette) demonstrates a ground ball drill.
The DC Grays and members of the Mamie Johnson Little League post for a group photo.
Joey Craska (New Jersey Institute of Technology) works with a player on his batting skills.
Mo'ne Davis (Hampton) teaches a player the correct way to hold a baseball bat.
Teddy Blumenauer (Towson) awaits a pitch from a Mamie Johnson Little League player as Frank Craska (far right) teaches the player to come set.
Scott Bandura (Princeton) poses for a photo with two Mamie Johnson Little League players.
By Chris Hirons
WASHINGTON — There wasn’t much doubt, no drama, no wondering if the gap was wide enough to pull starter Michael Eggert (Wofford) from the mound and dig into the bullpen.
There was, thanks to the torrential downpour from the sky that ended the game in the top of the sixth inning, a quiet win for the DC Grays at the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy.
They beat the South County Braves, 6-0 in what officially goes into the record book as a five-inning win, behind another hitless start by Eggert and some timely offense. Eggert, who was working a nine-strikeout perfect game when he was pulled at the end of the fifth against the Silver Spring T-Bolts on June 24, worked his second consecutive dominant outing, where he struck out two, walked one and (by technicality) pitched a no-hitter. He picked up his first win and hasn’t allowed a run in his past 10 innings. He has struck out 15 batters in 13 innings and walked just a single hitter. On June 13, his ERA jumped to six, but since he’s shaved it down to 1.39.
And his teammates rewarded his effort on the bump, a habit that the offense still looks to get into on a nightly basis, by burying the Braves before the rain moved over Southeast Washington. Cal Rucker (Georgetown), Jay Tarkenton (Old Dominion) and Scott Bandura (Princeton) all chipped in with hits and a run scored in the Grays’ five-run third inning. Cam Bufford (Grambling) provided the big hit with a lead-off home run in the fifth.
DC improved to 7-13, and with the Gaithersburg Giants losing to the Alexandria Aces, moved five games back of second place with 15 games left to play in the regular season.
Here’s how the week of ups and downs went for the Grays: They began the week 6-10, hoping to gain some ground on second place, which was just three-and-a-half games out of their reach. They had their ace on the bump, Tucker Alch (Catholic), who delivered 4 ⅔ innings of six-run (three earned) ball against the league’s best offense in the Big Train before turning it over to the bullpen. The Grays led 7-6 heading into the bottom of the eighth, only to lose by two runs by the time they walked off the field in the ninth inning.
They bounced back the next night with a convincing 15-10 win over South County, before a rain delay on Wednesday killed their momentum in a 12-4 loss to the Aces. Then on Friday night, nothing went right for the Grays in a 14-1 mercy rule loss to the T-Bolts.
But they saved one of their biggest surprises to emerge out of the rotation this summer for Saturday night. Eggert was somewhat of a wildcard for the Grays, the freshman didn’t pitch during his freshman year at Wofford, and began the season by making his first two appearances out of the bullpen.
And on somewhat of a whim, Eggert started against Silver Spring and rewarded the coaching staff with five perfect innings and earned himself another start. In a crowded rotation surrounded by top-flight talent in Cooper Vest (BYU), Jake Davidson (Kenyon) and Alch, Eggert has seemed to have gotten somewhat lost in the mix when talking about the Grays’ best starters.
But there Eggert was on Saturday night, struggling with his curveball, making use of his fastball and the location of it. He located it well, forcing 15 of the 16 hitters he faced into weak contact.
“My fastball and the location carried me through my start,” Eggert said. “I didn’t have my curveball at all, I might have thrown three of them in the third inning. I had a good change-up as well, and they played off really well together.”
He threw 57 pitches as the game dragged through the rain and into the top of the sixth before it was called. The lack of high-leverage situations allowed manager Reggie Terry to watch his pitcher pitch and not have to worry about having to look down towards the bullpen, which has had its struggles this season.
Aside from a walk in the second and a hit-by-pitch in the fourth, those were the only base runners Eggert would allow. He didn’t panic at all after the two runners reached base and forced soft ground balls to the infielders or lazy fly balls to the outfielders.
He strutted off the mound with oozing confidence at the end of every inning and walked back out to the mound more eager than he was the inning before.
There was no lapse at any point from Eggert — he shoved. And he shoved all night long.
The DC Grays will receive a quick two-day break but return to action on Tuesday, July 5 as they travel to Bethesda to take on the Big Train at 7:00 p.m.
By Chris Hirons
WASHINGTON — Jake Davidson (Kenyon) stood on the back of the mound, a few feet off the rubber, running his hands through his hair and staring blankly at the turf at the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy.
An infield pop fly — that was hit about 100 feet in the sky, but only traveled to the right of the pitcher's mound — landed in the middle of four DC Grays defenders. All four infielders crashed towards the ball, third baseman Alex Rosen (Georgetown) called off everyone else, but the ball didn’t fall near where Rosen was standing.
Instead, first baseman Jared Sprague-Lott (Richmond) and second baseman Jahli Hendricks (Southern) were the ones closest to the baseball once it hit the turf. It was just the beginning of Davidson’s worst start of the season, the first start in which he failed to complete four innings.
Once the Silver Spring T-Bolts’ first hitter of the night reached on the misjudged popfly, it was a sign for things to come for Davidson and the Grays in their 14-1, seven-inning loss on Friday night.
Davidson entered as one of the Grays’ best pitchers this season, the right-hander who tossed seven innings of one-hit, three-run (none earned) ball last week against the second-place Gaithersburg Giants. Davidson, who led the team in innings pitched and ranked third on the team in ERA coming into his start on Friday, allowed four runs in the first inning and three more in the second, and was hooked before he was able to complete the second inning. DC’s offense, aside from a solo home run from Evan Smith (West Virginia) in the bottom of the sixth, was silent.
And so the Grays (6-14) again showed that good things have a habit of vanishing — and vanishing quickly — in a season they haven’t been able to turn around quite yet. The loss dropped them into last place in the Cal Ripken Collegiate League.
The Grays hinted that, with a close two-run loss to the unstoppable Bethesda Big Train on Sunday and a 15-10 win over the South County Braves on Monday, a down season might be on the upswing. That was until two consecutive blowout losses — a 12-4 loss to the Alexandria Aces on Wednesday and Friday's misfortune — forced DC to go back to the drawing board.
The Grays are in a hole because, among other reasons, they haven’t been able to put together a complete performance for more than a game or two at a time. On days the offense and starting pitching seems just about unstoppable, the bullpen is there to cough up a lead. And on days where the starting pitching and bullpen match each other pitch for pitch, the offense can’t buy a timely hit. And then you have days like Friday, where nothing DC tried worked.
And Davidson, an unusual suspect, continued the trend.
Davidson’s success, like any pitcher, revolves around his ability to locate his fastball and to throw it for strikes. But Silver Spring, unlike the other teams Davidson has faced in previous starts, took more pitches and forced him to throw the ball in the zone. In Davidson’s best appearances, his strike percentage typically hovers around anywhere from 60-to-67%. On Friday, out of the 67 pitches he threw, only 56.7% of them crossed the plate for strikes.
Davidson, too, was unable to establish the lower half of the strike zone. He couldn’t get hitters to hit the ball on the ground like he usually does. The damage, once 16 hitters had come to the plate against him, was seven runs on eight hits, three walks and a hit batsman. The sophomore hadn’t allowed more than seven hits in any of five appearances this season.
Cody Bozak (Catholic) came in with two outs in the second and worked 3 ⅓ innings of mop-up duty in his Grays debut. Smith, making his first appearance since last Saturday’s win over the Braves, inched the Grays closer with his first home run of the season, but the deficit was already too steep.
Pitching coach Andre Rabouin told a few players that Friday’s loss was a wake-up call that the team needed. Will it be answered? We’ll find out when the Grays host the South County Braves Saturday night at 7:00 p.m. at the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy.
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.
By Chris Hirons
LORTON, Va. — Long before last night's resumption of the suspended game between the DC Grays and South County Braves, the Grays already had their opponents on the ropes. When the game was originally scheduled on June 8, the Grays had already forced South County to dig into its bullpen and Tucker Alch (Catholic) had just held the Braves' lineup to a single hit.
DC led by three when the thunder struck too loudly and the lightning bolts flashing through the sky could no longer be ignored. Max Power-Kruger (Morehead State) was gearing up to step into the box when South County’s manager asked the umpires to delay the game on June 8 for safety concerns.
The storm that was brewing over South County High School, the home of the South County Braves, nearly three weeks ago seemed to have carried over to Monday night in the form of the Grays’ offense, which put on its best showing of the season. In six innings on Monday night, DC’s offense collected 14 hits and 12 runs on its way to a 15-10 victory over the Braves.
It was the complete performance the bats needed after scoring seven runs in the first three innings against the Bethesda Big Train on Sunday night - but none thereafter. The Grays bats went dead silent over the final six innings and the Big Train was able to complete a 9-7 comeback win.
There was no such let-up on Monday night. There was a single and an RBI double that nearly missed leaving the ballpark as soon as play started back up on Monday in the top of the fourth. There was a homer, that one coming from Scott Bandura (Princeton), and then back-to-back doubles that drove in a run, each from Tanner Sagouspe (Cal Poly-SLO) and Brandon Gibbs (Delaware State). There was a functioning order, with nine batters in all, with a season-high nine extra-base hits, courtesy of Kenny Bell (Southeastern Louisiana) — who picked up his first three hits of the year — Vince DiLeonardo (Elon), Sam Kaplan (Cornell), Jared Sprague-Lott (Richmond), Alex Rosen (Georgetown), Bandura, Gibbs and Sagouspe.
“It’s definitely a good way to come back [of Sunday’s loss to the Big Train],” Sagouspe said. “It was nice to come back and put up a lot more hits and score some runs. It was a really good team win.”
The Grays turned the matchup into batting practice at South County High School. Brody Mack, Danny Fitzgerald and James Cardinale became their personal pitchers. The RBI double? It came from Bell, who hasn’t had the hottest of starts to the year, and had yet to officially record a hit. Now, after Monday night, he has three.
Bandura, who was slumping prior to Friday’s win over the Braves, is now six for his last 13, which includes two home runs, five runs and nine RBIs over the Grays’ last three games. His home run? A no-doubter that flew over the centerfield wall that could have given Fitzgerald whiplash.
Kai Cummings (Mount St. Mary’s), to his credit, held his own and allowed manager Reggie Terry to give the true pitchers in his bullpen an extra day of rest heading into Tuesday’s off-day. It wasn’t the prettiest stat line — seven runs (five earned) on 69 pitches in 4 ⅓ innings — but as the Grays’ typical innings eater, he did his job. He “relieved” Alch when the game resumed on Monday.
An offensive outburst that carried through the entire game, is what the Grays (6-12) have been searching for in the first half of the season.
The runs haven’t been hard to come by for the Grays lately. They scored a combined 16 runs on Saturday and Sunday. What has been hard to come by, however, are the timely hits that seem to stop falling when the Grays need them the most.
But on Monday, the timely hits never quit. The Grays clicked and kept clicking. They finished with a season-high 18 hits and scored in every inning besides the fifth and the eighth. But even in those innings, the Grays still had traffic on the bases. Bandura finished with four hits in six at-bats and four RBIs. Kaplan walked twice and picked up three knocks, including his double in the fifth. And Sagouspe, who was finishing his high school season when the game officially began, recorded two hits, scored two runs and drove in a run. By the middle of the sixth, the Grays had already scored more runs (11) than they had in any of their previous games.
“It’s definitely different,” Sagoupse said of the transition from high school to college pitching. He’s handled it well, though, and is hitting .381 with seven RBIs in six games. “There’s a lot better stuff coming from the college guys.”
The effort was loud and not wasted. But could they do it again, then some time again after that? We'll find out on Wednesday, when the Grays travel to Alexandria to take on the Aces at Frank Mann Field. First pitch is at 7:00pm.
By Chris Hirons
BETHESDA, Md. — When Ryan Metz (Virginia Tech) was called in from the Bethesda Big Train’s bullpen in the top of the eighth he had one job: Keep the Big Train’s deficit at one. When he trotted out from the dugout for his second inning of work, his task turned into preserving the Big Train’s two-run lead in the bottom of the ninth.
In both instances, Metz finished the job. He punched out six of the seven hitters he faced and locked down the 9-7 win for Bethesda against the DC Grays on Sunday night.
In the DC Grays' dugout, it was deja vu all over again. The Grays’ bullpen surrendered another lead, the bats went cold after a hot start - and this one, with a big lead against the first place team, might have been the biggest heartbreaker of them all.
DC (5-12) was in a position to steal a win from Bethesda (15-3), who has been nearly unbeatable all season. The offense was scorching hot — in the first three innings at least — and Joseph O’Connell (Harvard), who has struggled out of the bullpen this year, worked 2 ⅓ scoreless after relieving Tucker Alch (Catholic) with runners on the corners in the fifth inning.
Donovan Freyer (Shorter) was called onto pitch the eighth, and the Grays, who were clinging to a one-run lead, needed him to throw his third consecutive scoreless inning since he arrived in DC earlier this week. Unfortunately, Freyer struggled in his ⅔ innings of work, allowed a game-tying home run to leadoff the eighth inning. He later issued three walks.
When he was pulled, Freyer walked off the mound in obvious frustration as Frank Craska (Lafayette) jogged in from the right field bullpen. Craska, who played with the Grays in 2019, has been one of manager Reggie Terry’s most trusted arms out of the ‘pen this year. He’s Terry’s fireman and, when he entered in the ninth, the bases were already ablaze.
It’s a situation that Craska hasn’t been used to this season. Typically, the six-foot-two right hander is called on at the beginning of innings with a fresh start. He hasn't been used in relief in the middle of an inning unless it was an emergency. But on Sunday night, it was an emergency.
To Danny Neri (Notre Dame), the first batter he faced, Craska worked a full count but walked Neri on a pitch that looked in the strike zone from the stands. And then the bad luck began to spiral. Grant Knipp (Alabama) roped a line drive that bounced off of Craska’s glove. Craska stood for a moment with a look of shock on his face, and chased down the baseball that stopped rolling on the grass between first and second base as the runner pulled into first with an RBI single.
Craska struck the next batter out on four pitches, but the damage was done and the Grays went into the ninth trailing by two. The crowd was as loud as it had been all night when the Big Train ran out onto the field for the bottom of the ninth.
Yet, long before the bullpen coughed up the lead, it was almost noiseless. All 534 Big Train fans were stunned that the Grays, who had struggled to move runners on base for a good chunk of the season, were doing just that — in the Big Train’s ballpark no less. The Grays put up a heap of runs in the first three innings, highlighted by Tanner Sagouspe’s (Cal Poly) three-run triple in a five-run third inning.
If all of his previous starts were an indication, the seven runs the offense scored would be all the run support Alch needed as he went back out for the bottom of the third inning. Before the Grays’ big third inning, Alch had just worked his 16th consecutive scoreless inning.
His scoreless streak would last two more outs when he gave up his first run of the year in the third, and then allowed three more in the fourth. More trouble brewed in the fifth when Terry sent Alch back out to toe the rubber. He would last just ⅔ of an inning more, giving up his fifth and sixth runs, before being pulled for the likes of O’Connell, who finished the inning two batters later with DC’s lead still intact.
But the DC offense died down after its outburst in the first third of the night; it put just seven out of its last 25 hitters on base in the last six innings. The Grays picked up six hits in the first three innings and just two over the course of the final six.
It’s been an eerily similar story seemingly every night for the Grays: Pound the opposing starting pitcher for runs in the early innings, stop the timely hits once the starter was pulled, hold the lead until the middle innings, and then cough it up.
And they coughed it up once again. Sunday’s loss marked the ninth time in 12 losses that the Grays had lost by two or fewer runs. Had they won, say five of those games, they’d be sitting in second place, half a game up on the third place team.
The Grays’ record doesn’t tell their whole season's story. They’ve been so close to connecting the dots all season long.
In the top of the sixth, Patrick Vandenbergh (Lafayette) led off the inning with a single, and Cam Bufford (Grambling) followed that up with a perfectly placed sacrifice bunt to the left side of the mound. The Grays were in prime position to add to their slim 7-6 lead. But, like how the rest of the season has gone, the timely hit in the middle-to-late innings never came. Burke Camper (Towson) grounded out but moved Vandenbergh to third, Jared Sprague-Lott (Richmond) walked to put runners on the corners with two outs, and finally Sagouspe flew out to right field to end the threat. The Big Train’s relievers kept Bethesda’s slim deficit it faced intact.
And that was the difference on Sunday night.
On Monday, the Grays travel to South County High School to resume the suspended game against the South County Braves from June 8. The game will resume at 7:00pm with the Grays leading 3-0 in the fourth inning.
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.