Resurgent Hartford softball program hopes to be a contender

Published: 04-19-2023 3:57 PM

By TRIS WYKES

Valley News Staff Writer

WINDSOR — Perhaps the Hartford High softball program had not hit rock bottom before Danielle Tenney’s 2020 hiring as head coach. However, that depth was at least within shouting distance at the time.

The Hurricanes were 4-13 the season before, and Tenney was the program’s third coach in four years. Hartford’s most recent postseason victory had occurred in 2012.

But Tenney, a former Stevens High star and NCAA Division I player, dug in, spending five and six hours on Sundays at the Maxfield Sports Complex. She supplemented hour-long lessons with her new charges by mixing in paying customers of younger ages, spreading fundamental improvement throughout a program she described as decaying prior to her arrival.

“That first year, we’d field the ball and just hope we could get it to first (base) for an out there,” Tenney said Tuesday after her team’s 14-8 victory over Windsor in its season opener. “Now, we’re looking for the best option, and we’re making plays at other bases without even thinking about it.”

The Hurricanes can also hit, although they managed only seven against the young and feisty Yellowjackets. Windsor pitcher Molly Burke, a freshman, looked poised and held the visitors to one run through three innings. Meanwhile, the hosts scored twice in the second frame and twice more during the third, all those runs coming on wild pitches.

Hartford played without starting catcher Harper Robinson, who’s out with back problems. A freshman took her spot and the inexperience showed, although the youngster improved at blocking as the game progressed.

“We anticipated that happening,” Tenney said. “We’re always worried about the first-game jitters, but we have great hitters and they eventually adjusted.”

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Hartford, trailing 4-1 after three innings, pushed ahead by a run during the fourth. Windsor (1-2) forged a 5-5 tie during the fifth but the visitors parlayed two singles, a double, a walk and an error into four runs during the sixth and coasted home.

Madison Willey finished with a single and a double, Logan Evans produced a double and Brown and Becca Kelly each chipped in with a single and two walks.

Windsor, which starts four freshman of its own, committed five errors but first-year coach Wendy Moody was optimistic nonetheless.

“Our growth from our first practice to now, in our third game, has been huge,” said Moody, previously the Yellowjackets’ JV coach. “We’re not making physical mistakes and mentally, we’re in every inning of every game. Our bats are starting to cook a little more. I’m happy with where we’re at.”

Hartford finished 11-7 and reached the Vermont Division II quarterfinalist last season. Tenney lost only two players to graduation from that team and has state title aspirations this spring. The five juniors were freshmen for her first season and the lone senior, pitcher Marina Grassi, has the potential to carry her team at times.

Grassi struck out more than 100 batters last spring, but was a bit wild Tuesday. The daughter of former Hartford baseball coach Jarrod Grassi, she allowed five hits while striking out two Yellowjackets, walking five and hitting a batter.

“Marina wants to win and works really hard, but she’s such a supportive senior, giving the freshmen advice and rides,” Tenney said. “She’s not spiteful and asking why they can’t do better.”

Windsor’s Burke allowed 10 hits while striking out nine batters and walking seven. Teammate Brianna Barton smacked a home run, and Cassie Clark produced a single and a triple.

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com.

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