On a cool and crisp Saturday evening for Cal Ripken League baseball, the DC Grays and South County-Metropolitan Braves engaged in another competitive battle on the diamond. The Grays were coming off a two-game split against the Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts while the Braves defeated the Gaithersburg Giants the night prior. Going into the matchup, the Braves had nabbed the first two matchups over the Grays this summer. However, both outcomes had been within three runs. The Grays had another shot to close the gap on the Braves.
The game had a quiet beginning as the first inning yielded one base runner for each side. Tyler Horvat (Washington & Jefferson) was the starting pitcher for the Grays, his first start of the season after playing a trusty left field in the previous games this week. Horvat relied on his defense and the glove of Cam Bufford (Grambling State) early on. Bufford fielded and threw out two potential base runners in the first inning.
Then in the top of the second inning, the first firework was sent off the bat of Jarrett Jenkins (Georgia Southern) to put the Grays up 2-0. Jenkins smashed the first pitch he saw in the at-bat and gave the ball a ride over the left center field wall. After the top half of the second, Horvat and the defense worked through a bottom half jam that saw Braves runners reach second and third base but neither cross home plate.
Not much occurred during the third and fourth inning for either offense. Those innings were pitchers and defense duels where three total players reached a base. Closing off the fourth inning, Horvat found his groove on the mound. He struck out back-to-back batters swinging to give the Grays some mojo heading into the fifth. And with this spark plug, the Grays ignited their offense.
Jenkins picked up right where he left off, smacking a single to lead off the inning. After Patrick Vandenbergh (Lafayette) drew a walk, Sam Blancato (Georgia Southern) stepped into the batter's box. Jenkins moved up to third base off a wild pitch in Blancato’s at-bat. Then he was able to scurry across home plate when Blancato skied a pitch just far enough into the outfield so Jenkins could tack on Grays’ third run of the evening.
Horvat started mowing down Braves hitters in the bottom halves of the fifth and sixth innings. Two strikeouts in the fifth were registered from the hot arm of Horvat. Furthermore, two more Braves batters guessed wrong on Horavt’s high fastballs and off-speed filth in the sixth inning. When Tyler Horavt exited the game, he allowed no runs and one hit while striking out nine batters. Quite the remarkable outing on the bump for Horvat.
In the sixth inning, the Grays decided to flip the batting order upside down. Nearly the entire original 1-9 hitters were switched out on offense and defense. This change was pre-planned and proved to work in the sixth inning. Max Harper (BYU) led the frame off with a solo shot early into his count. It was his second home run of the summer and it powered the Grays to a 4-0 lead. Later in the same inning, Brian Depman (Georgetown) blooped a single in between two fielders which scored Michael Mallas (Lafayette). The Grays held a 5-0 lead entering the final three innings.
But then the Grays coughed up their lead as a trio of pitchers combined to yield seven runs in the bottom of the seventh – though not all of the runs were earned to put DC down, 7-5, entering the top of the eighth.
Down by two runs now, the Grays were unable to deal with the sudden change in momentum. The pitching and defense sharpened up in the eighth but the offense couldn’t recover. After going down 1-2-3 in their frame of the eighth, the Grays showed some life when held to their last three outs. Blancato smoked a single followed by a Bryce Molinaro (St. John’s) walk. There were two runners on with two outs for Harper who homered back in the sixth inning. However, a well-struck ball found leather out in the field and the game was over with the Grays falling to the Braves 7-5.
The Grays now fall to 6-9 on the summer and sit in fifth place in the Cal Ripken league standings, sitting ahead of the Thunderbolts and Cropdusters The Grays game will look to get back in the win column on Sunday at 1 p.m. back at the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy. DC will have a big chance to rebound as they face the league-leading 11-2 Bethesda Big Train.