Lance Brabitz scores on Max Stallings’ two-run double in the Aces’ eight-run third inning.
By Rich Bevensee
The way the players describe it, the Delmarva Aces 11U Coastal squad took some lumps last season and learned some valuable lessons along the way.
One year later, the same group is scoring runs in flurries, playing impenetrable defense and enjoying each other’s success.
“You teach the kids the right way and do the little things, and the big things come together by themselves,” Aces coach Michael Reagan said.
On Sunday morning, the progress of the new and improved Aces was on display during a 14-0 pool play victory in three innings over the Gatorz of Hazelton, Pa., in the Mother’s Day Classic at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
The victory clinched the three seed in the tournament semifinals for the Aces (3-0), which had outscored their opponents, 38-7, to that point.
The Aces, based in Berlin, Md., would face the second-seeded Mara Warriors in the semis, with the winner facing either top seed Jersey Shore Elite or EABO Riverdawgs in the final at 6:30 p.m.
Aces pitcher Max Stallings no-hit the Gatorz through three innings and allowed just one baserunner, Carter Grant, who reached on an error in the first inning. Stallings struck out two and permitted one ball hit out of the infield.
“Some of us have been together since 9U, so we have a good bond,” Stallings said. “We’ve been working up our weaknesses to strengths. It’s like if we do something bad, we go behind the field and work on it before a game so we know what to do.”
Perhaps that bond made the work ethic that much stronger for the Aces, who strove to improve their offense and not relive last season’s offensive struggles.
“Last year we weren’t one of the best teams out there but this year we’re so much better,” said Aces No. 2 hitter and shortstop Lance Brabitz, who forced in a run with a walk and scored twice. “I think people are getting used to it and training as hard as they can because they’re realizing you have to try harder to play better.
“We’ve been hitting really well. We needed to get used to it after the first couple games but we started getting really good and just kept getting better.”
That’s the truth. The Aces reached double figures in runs scored in all three pool play wins this weekend – 14-0 against the Connecticut Bearcats, 10-7 against Grit 11U Silver and 14-0 against the Gatorz.
Stallings said the offense has been the team’s best asset through their six tournaments thus far.
“We’ve come a long way with it,” Stallings said. “Last year we didn’t do so well but we’ve been working on it, like finding the ball out of the pitcher’s glove and making contact. You want to read how the ball is coming and its spin.”
With an increased focus on the offense, the Aces have begun their season 17-4 which includes this weekend’s pool play games.
“We hit the ball pretty well 1-through-10,” Reagan said. “We have a long way to go and we’re nowhere where we want to be yet, but we’re getting there.
“And it’s a group effort. It’s not me, it’s definitely coach (Chris) Bengel, who’s been right there with me. We’re a 50-50 team. The kids have bought in, the parents have bought in, so things have been great.”
The Aces began their work in the bottom of the first inning by scoring six runs on three hits and two errors. Stallings drove in Colton Rhoad with an infield grounder, Connor Vaughan had an RBI single, Stallings and Vaughan both scored on wild pitches, and Gavin Benson clouted a two-run, grounds rule double.
In the bottom of the third, the Aces closed out the game with eight more runs. Andrew Hall and Brabitz both forced in a run with bases-loaded walks, and in between them, Rhoad had an RBI single.
Stallings then ripped a two-run double to center field to make it 12-0. Jack Wiillmot added a run with a sacrifice fly, and Vaughan stole home to end the game via the mercy rule.
Editor’s Note: The game was an pleasant surprise for this writer, who, after 40 years, reunited with the aforementioned Aces assistant coach Chris Bengel, who attended the same high school, Calvert Hall in Towson, Md.
Bengel, a baseball legend in the Baltimore area, was a senior when Rich Bevensee was a freshman. Bengel was selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the 22nd round of the 1983 Major League Baseball draft, but opted to attend The Citadel where he was a four-year starter and selected second-team All-Southern Conference.
Bengel served as Calvert Hall’s admissions director for 18 years and was also the JV baseball coach for eight years. He then coached for two years at University of Maryland Eastern Shore before joining the Delmarva Aces program and continues to give back to the game.