It might not have been the ending the DC Grays wanted, but the journey to get there won’t be forgotten by the DC faithful.
Sitting behind the Silver-Spring T-Bolts by three games in the Cal Ripken Collegiate League standings when play began after the All-Star break on July 7, the Grays catapulted into a playoff spot, using a late-season push – via a five-game win streak – to move from dead last in the standings and into the postseason.
The All-Star break gave the Grays a much-needed rest after they stumbled out of the gates in the first half of the season. They were so close, inches even, away from turning early season losses into victories, but bad luck would sometimes get in the way of success.
However, when the calendar flipped to the second half of the season, the Grays suddenly ignited a spark that was set ablaze. That started in the All-Star game where Sam Blancato (Georgia Southern), Cam Bufford (Grambling State), Dane Campahusen (Wooster), Henry Zipay (Nebraska-Omaha), Kai Cummings (Mount St. Mary’s), Jake Davidson (Kenyon) and Kai Leckszas (Georgetown) all pitched in for the South’s 7-1 win over the North.
From there, the Grays caught fire with a 9-5 record over their last 14 games. That was until they were defeated by the Gaithersburg Giants in the play-in round, 10-1. But along the way, DC was led by a solid top of the lineup in Zipay (.386 batting average), Patrick Vandenbergh (Lafayette; .359), Max Harper (BYU; .304), Camphausen (.283) and Blancato (.266).
Vandenbergh, a returner from 2021 when he hit .325, found his groove in the second half after a slowish start because of inconsistent lineups. But once he was penciled into the lineup for good, his bat took off. He finished the year with a .529 on-base-percentage, drawing 19 walks and only striking out eight times.
Zipay, meanwhile, burst onto the summer scene after redshirting at Omaha in the spring. He was the Grays lead-off hitter for most of the summer and led the team in average. Blancato, who arrived in D.C. after playing in Georgia Southern’s NCAA Regional, crushed three homers and drove in 16 runs for the Grays.
Harper (four homers) and Camphausen (eight homers) emerged as steady middle-of-the-order bats once the Grays got rolling in the second half of the season. Their bats were hot once the calendar flipped to July and they didn't cool off until the end of the year.
The pitching, too, did its job for the entirety of the year as it was led by Cummings and Davidson, both returners from 2021. After his first season with the Grays last summer, Davidson led starters in ERA with a 2.58 mark in 38 ⅓ innings. Cummings, meanwhile, wasn’t too far behind with a 2.95 ERA.
The backend of the bullpen, too, was stones all summer. Led by the rising freshman Leckszas, who boasted a 1.22 ERA with 27 strikeouts in 14 ⅔ innings, relief pitching was never much of a worry for the Grays. Sam Stratton (Wofford) worked 19 ⅔ innings which was good for a 2.58 ERA. And Diego Barrett (Potomac State), who came in from relief more times than not, carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning on the last day of the regular season.
Backed by a solid top of the lineup, frontline starting pitching and a solid bullpen, the Grays had all the right pieces to put together a solid 2022 season. Unfortunately, it never turned out that way, but DC was on the brink of winning just about every night. Luck never seemed to turn the Grays’ way as they were in contention all season.
The Grays would like to thank their sponsors, players, host families, coaches, and of course, the great Grays fans for their continued support. The Grays appreciate all of the support from so many wonderful people for supporting summer collegiate baseball and the DC Grays RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) program.
Saturday evening saw a downpour in Northern Maryland that postponed both the Big Train and Grays previous matchups before their Sunday night battle. These two teams were on opposite trajectories this season. Bethesda rode high at the top of the standings while DC had lost a few tough battles in a row. But the Grays had come close to downing the Big Train before this matchup so they weren't invincible.
Kai Cummings (Mount St. Mary’s) made his first start since June 19 in Alexandria, where he shutout the Aces in his six innings of work. Cummings came with some high heat to open up the game in the first two innings. He allowed a few base runners but ultimately no runs scored for the Big Train and Cummings registered two strikeouts in the first inning.
The bats started the game on the right track. Three-hole hitter Cam Bufford (Grambling State) smoked a double off the bat and into left field. In the second inning, Patrick Vandenbergh (Lafayette) notched a single, one of his two on the day. The Grays had a couple of walks in the second but no runs to show for it yet.
After Cummings delivered two strong innings, Joe Bladel (William & Mary) took over in the third inning. The story of this inning, though, was Vandenbergh who made a spectacular catch at second base. There was a hot shot to his left which was snagged by Vandenbergh for the out. Bethesda scored the first run of the game in the process, however, to make it 1-0 after three innings.
The fourth inning was a bit of the same story. A new pitcher took the bump for the Grays. Camden Mounts (Catholic) stood in and pitched a flawless fourth inning which included a strikeout. Like the last inning, this one featured a Golden Glove worthy defensive play from Vandenbergh once more. This time it was a softer ground ball to his left side. Vandenbergh dove to his knees to stop the ball from rolling into the outfield. In the process, Vandenbergh twisted his body and spun around to fire a bullet into the glove of Camphausen.
In the fifth inning, the Grays struck gold and found the runs they were looking for. Aaron Thomas (Wofford) led the charge with a single struck to right field which was followed by a Vandenbergh single that was poked into center. With Thomas holding steady at third, he was able to sprint home off a wild pitch and get the Grays on the scoreboard. But they weren't done just yet because Derrick Booker (St. Mary’s) hit a well-placed RBI base hit to score Vandenbergh from second and propel the Grays into a 2-1 lead at the halfway point.
When the second half of the game was underway, the Grays saw a familiar face take the mound. The team leader in strikeouts with 19, Kai Leckszas (Georgetown) returned to the mound in the fifth inning. Leckszas worked through a clean frame and registered a strikeout. The inning was also highlighted by a wonderful defensive play by starting catcher Humberto Torres (Gardner-Webb). Torres nailed a runner trying to steal second for his fourth runner caught base runner of the summer.
Not only did Torres make some great plays behind the plate but he also delivered a single at the plate in the sixth inning. The Grays weren’t able to cash in, however, so Caleb Causey (Mississippi Valley State) took over pitching duties in the bottom half of the sixth. That sixth inning was the Big Train tie the game. Picking back up in the seventh inning, Bryce Molinaro (St. John’s) came in for a relief appearance. He gave up no runs in the inning and Bufford made a smooth glove and throw play from third to first to close the inning out.
In the eighth inning, Tyler Horvat (Washington & Jefferson) got the Grays a base runner by hustling down the first base line and was called safe. Horvat didn’t end up reaching home so the Grays and Big Train remained tied 2-2 with an inning of baseball remaining.
Adam Bogosian (Lafayette) started the bottom of the eighth in relief but was replaced by Sam Stratton (Wofford) after giving up the go-ahead run. Stratton was able to work through the remainder of the inning and send the Grays to the ninth with three outs to play with. The Grays didn’t go down without a fight. Bufford drew a two-out walk and Dane Camphausen (Wooster) singled into the opposite field just a few inches away from the first base foul line. But after Harper struck out swinging the Grays fell just short of conquering the Big Train for the first time this season.
Sunday marked the Grays final contest before the All-Star break. Seven Grays will represent the team in Bethesda for Tuesday night's All-Star game. Those players are Sam Blancato (Georgia Southern), Henry Zipay (Nebraska-Omaha), Cam Bufford, Dane Camphausen, Kai Cummings, Kai Leckszas, and Jake Davidson (Kenyon).
After the All-Star break wraps up the Grays will play the Giants in Gaithersburg Thursday night at 7 p.m. Then, DC will then return to Nationals Youth Baseball Academy the next night on Friday to face the Alexandria Aces at 7 p.m.
After a streak of success with three-straight wins last week, the Grays have fallen under hard times this last week. The two-game series against the Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts resulted in a modest split between the two clubs. A trip into South County left the Grays empty-handed after a blown 5-0 lead. Then the Grays proceeded to allow the Big Train to come back and defeat them by scoring three runs in the ninth and winning 4-3.
Following those tough losses have been ones where the margin of defeat has widened. The Grays slew of road games hasn’t gone as planned. First a 10-6 defeat in Olney to the Cropdusters. Next a 9-1 loss to the Aces. This latest contest in Gaithersburg resulted in a similar story.
Diego Barrett (George Mason) was tabbed as the starting pitcher Wednesday night. In the bottom half of the first, he delivered mixed results. Barrett allowed a run off a leadoff solo home run. However, following that early blunder, Barrett was able to bear down and register three strikeouts to get out of the first inning.
Opening up the second inning was Max Harper (BYU) who gashed a ball out to the left-field wall and cruised into second with a double. That hit would prove to be Gray's best base knock of the night. Aaron Thomas (Wofford) walked only for Brian Depman (Georgetown) to ground out but advance the runners.
With runners on second and third and only one out, this would be one of the more golden opportunities to light up the scoreboard with runs. However, Cam Bufford (Grambling State) grounded into a fielder's choice which resulted in the runner from third to home getting tagged out. A Patrick Vandenbergh (Lafayette) groundout to second base wrapped up the inning with the score still at 1-0 Giants.
It was the second inning where the Giants did a majority of their damage and ultimately put the game out of reach. Barrett struggled with command on the mound and allowed the bases to be loaded off three straight walks. Then he yielded multiple-RBI base hits to drive in runs for the Giants. By the end of the inning, Barrett had given up six runs on four hits, and four walks but he did notch four strikeouts across two innings pitched.
There was some action to speak of in the bottom frame of the second inning. Michael Mallas (Lafayette) legged out an infield single. He was put on second base after team leader in AVG and OBP Henry Zipay (Nebraska Omaha) drew a walk. The base runners didn’t lead to any runs crossing home plate so the Grays came up empty and still in a 6-0 hole.
As the game dragged on, the Grays flipped pitchers for the third and fourth innings. Bryce Molinaro (St. John’s) came in to relieve Barrett. After allowing another run on the board, Molinaro and the defense buckled down. The BYU bros combined for a nifty fielding play to end the third. Harper was the cut-off man at first base and gunned out a runner trying for second base. The tag was made by his teammate Ozzie Pratt (BYU). With a quick 1,2,3 inning behind them, the Grays switched up the lineup for the fifth inning on.
Alex Emmanuel (Canisius) replaced Bufford at third base. Logan Scully (George Mason) became the new catcher. Tyler Horvat (Washington & Jefferson) subbed in for Thomas in right. Dane Camphausen (Wooster) at first for Harper and Jarrett Jenkins (Georgia Southern) for Vandenbergh at second base. In addition to the lineup and defensive substitutions, the Grays brought in Sam Stratton (Wofford) to pitch in the fifth and sixth innings.
Stratton delivered two strong innings of work out on the mound. He allowed base runners and one to step on home but powered a fastball high for a commanding strikeout to end the inning. In the sixth inning, Stratton made a couple of athletic plays out in the field. Not once but twice did he handle a sharply hit comebacker to the mound and threw it to first for outs. While the Grays' pitching improved throughout the game, the hitting did not.
The new lineup couldn't master the Giant's dominant pitching that seemed to get stronger and stronger as the night grew darker. After no hits in the fifth or sixth, the Grays finally tacked on their first and only run of the game in the seventh. Emmanuel led off the inning with a walk which was followed by a Jenkins walk. Scully chipped in by advancing the runners to third and second off a ground ball. Then it was Zipay who drove in Emmanuel from third with a well-placed grounder of his own. Ultimately Pratt struck out which ended Gray's shot of scoring more runs.
In the seventh and eighth the Grays put on a new pitcher in the form of Adam Bogosian (Lafayette). Bogosian got through a scoreless seventh inning with the help of some wonderful defense at shortstop. Pratt gloved a tough ball on a hop and completed a sexy jump throw to nail the runner in a bang-bang play at first. He even picked up where he left off in the eighth inning by lasering two throws from short to first for two of the three outs. The Giants did however score yet another run to make it 9-1 heading into the final frame.
That last half-inning saw Emmanuel strikeout followed by Jenkins walking which was his second walk in two at-bats for the game. But any hope of a comeback was snuffed out as Scully flew out to left and Zipay grounded out too short which ended the ball game.
The Grays will have a shot to get back on track this Friday back at Nationals Youth Baseball Academy against the South County Braves at 7 p.m.