Cover Story

Alexandria Aces Look To Continue Their Winning Ways in 2024

Ryan Reich, Seton Hall University, 2023 Cal Ripken League First Team All-League Allstar. (Photo Tess Wilhelm/ Alexandria Aces

ALEXANDRIA, VA-The Alexandria Aces have played for the Cal Ripken Sr. Collegiate Baseball League championship in the last three years, winning it all in 2022. Aces’ manager Chris Berset said that other teams in the league are aware of the Aces’ recent success.

I tell the boys before the season that other teams are going to play their best games against us,” said Berset, who played seven seasons of professional baseball after being drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in 2010. “You’re going to need to bring it every single night. This is why you signed up, to be one of the better teams, to make a name for yourself.”

The Aces made a name for themselves last year, setting a league record with a 17-game winning streak en route to a 30-6 record and their second straight regular season title. Vanderbilt 1B Matt Ossenfort, who was named the Most Outstanding Player after leading the league in home runs, slugging, and on-base percentage, paced a well-balanced attack that led the league with 282 runs scored – nearly eight per game.

Aces’ pitcher Ryan Reich (Seton Hall) led the league in strikeouts and K/9 innings, while Aces and Seton Hall teammate Anthony Ehly tied for the league lead in wins. For those readers who are fans of the new generation of statistics, Ossenfort recorded the second-hardest exit velocity (103.6 mph) while pitcher Cade Mattison (Mississippi Gulf Coast) recorded the three highest spin rates. Eight Aces’ players were named First-Team All-League, the most of any team.

Berset told the Zebra that the team is successful because it attracts high-ceiling players who want to improve during their summer: “We’ve had some fantastic ballplayers, willing to learn and willing to work, and we’re blessed with a staff that’s worked hard with the guys,” said Berset, who is supported by assistant coaches Jen Hammond and Chris Rooney.

I know it can be a grind, so I try to keep it as fun as possible, and I think the guys receive that well. I don’t ask for much; I just ask them to play the game hard, the right way, and with an open mindset. At the end of the day, my goal is finding ways that they can improve.”

Tim Nicholson of George Washington University (2023 Cal Ripken League First Team All-League Allstar) and Coach Chris Berset. (Photo: Tess Wilhelm/Alexandria Aces

Georgetown Prep graduate Tim Nicholson, who just completed his junior year at George Washington University, said that Berset and the Aces’ coaching staff were critical to his individual development and the team’s overall success: “After a couple of years at GW, when I was more of a role player, I got an opportunity to play almost every day for the Aces, while working closely with Coach Berset, who was also a catcher,” Nicholson said. “While we had a lot of talented guys, so did the other teams in the league. What set us apart was the leadership, starting with Coach Berset. From the first day of practice, he emphasized winning while maintaining looseness and camaraderie.”

The Cal Ripken Sr. Collegiate Baseball League’s mission is to promote collegiate wooden-bat baseball in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia while fostering spirited competition emphasizing sportsmanship, teamwork, honesty, and fair play. The Aces play in the South Division, along with the Metro South County Braves, Southern Maryland Senators, and District of Columbia Grays. The Northern Division comprises the Bethesda Big Train, Cropdusters Baseball, Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts, and Gaithersburg Giants.

ACES WIN!!! (Photo: Tess Wilhelm/Alexandria Aces)

Beyond their 17-game winning streak, the Aces also made history last year when Hammond became the first woman to manage a game in Ripken Sr. League history, leading the team to a 14-6 victory (its 30th of the year) while Berset was away from the team, being recognized as one of the Chamber ALX 40 Under 40 honorees. Following the historic win, Hammond was quoted as saying, “I’ve been very blessed with great players, coaches and staff that are very supportive and know that I just want to be a part of the game.”

Coach Jen Hammond talks with pitcher Reese Crochet of George Washington University. Reese is from Alexandria and played for the Aces on the 2022 championship team. Jen has been with the Aces since 2021, coached during 2022 champ season, and in 2023 became the first woman to head coach a Cal Ripken League game. (Photo: Tess Wilhelm/Alexandria Aces)

Aces’ majority owner Frank Fannon credits Berset’s deep contacts in the college baseball community and the appeal of this area as some of the reasons why the Aces have been successful. “We have a wonderful head coach, we’re winning, and Alexandria is a very attractive community for a player to spend his summer,” said the Alexandria Living Legend who has been affiliated with the team since its inaugural season in 2008. Berset, who has managed the team since 2018, echoed that “players love being in such a great town like Alexandria, being close to DC, and living close to or in Old Town. Most of these guys are Northern, Midwestern, or Southern boys, and they come here and are blown away by all the stuff to do.”

Berset said that, in addition to Nicholson, he’s looking forward to welcoming back Brandon Harrity (Western Michigan), who was a member of the 2022 championship team, as well as returning pitchers Reece Crochet (George Washington), Ethan Houghtaling (Indiana State), and Josh Rivera (UMBC) from last year’s team. “It’s nice to get some of these guys back because they’re studs,” Berset said. “You know what you’re going to get out of them, day in and day out, and all of them will give me 110 percent every single time they play.” Berset said the Aces also anticipate welcoming new players from Auburn, Elon, College of Charleston, Maryland, and Seton Hall.

Dylan Grego of Ball State University, 2023 Cal Ripken League First Team All-League Allstar. (Photo: Tess Wilhelm/Alexandria Aces)

According to the Ripken Sr. league webpage, 20 league alumni were on MLB rosters to start the 2024 season. Fannon said that two players from the 2022 championship team are expected to be selected in the major league draft: Cade Sullivan (Western Michigan) and Adam Tellier (Wake Forest).

If so, they will join multiple Aces’ alums who have been drafted in the past three years, including Chris Alleyne (Los Angeles Dodgers), Ryan Brown (Los Angeles Dodgers), Blake Burkhalter (Atlanta Braves), Zach Fruit (Baltimore Orioles), Alex Garbrick (Philadelphia Phillies), Jared Lyons (Cincinnati Reds), and Trennor O’Donnell (Boston Red Sox).

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Alexandria Aces 2024 Home Game Schedule

The Aces’ home opener is at 6:30 p.m. on June 2 with a tilt against the District of Columbia Grays at Frank Mann Field (3700 Commonwealth Ave).

Other notable home games include:

June 8 against the Gaithersburg Giants (Alexandria Zebra night)

June 14 against Cropdusters Baseball (Little League night)

June 17 against the Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts (Leon Day/Juneteenth night)

June 23 against the Bethesda Big Train (who bested them in last season’s championship series!)

June 26 against the Gaithersburg Giants (Blessed Sacrament/Knights of Columbus night)

June 30 against the Southern Maryland Senators (Police Appreciation night), and

July 17 The home finale on against the South County Senators. It will be Host Family Appreciation Night.

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