Hartford baseball gets hot on a warm night

By TRIS WYKES

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 04-15-2023 8:56 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION, Vt. — The Hartford High baseball team won its opener Thursday night at the Maxfield Sports Complex under slightly strange circumstances.

Take the weather at first pitch — roughly 70 degrees. One attendee arrived wearing a winter coat and was heckled by friends in T-shirts and shorts who were enjoying the unseasonably warm evening.

The Hurricanes won, 2-1, despite being one-hit by Patriots hurler Colby Granger. What might have been the nonleague contest’s deciding play wasn’t even viewed by Hartford head coach Bill Vielleux, who was ducking for cover when MAU batter Aaron Whitman swung and lost the grip on his bat during the sixth inning.

“I wish I would have seen what happened, but I was running away,” Vielleux said with a chuckle. “That thing looked like it was headed right for us.”

The bat didn’t go airborne in a lazy arc, instead shooting out of Whitman’s hands on a low angle, skimming over the Hartford dugout’s front lip and landing on a walkway. So sudden and unusual was the sequence that movement on the diamond slowed to a crawl, despite the ball dribbling toward the pitcher’s mound.

Hurricanes pitcher Matt Hayes finally strode forward, hoisted the horsehide and closed in on Patriots runner Nat Greenslet, who had slid to a stop halfway down the third-base line. Hayes’ tag saved a run.

“I think almost everyone thought it was a dead ball, including (Greenslet),” Hayes said, noting that the only shout he heard to make a play came from catcher Sean Dunton. “Thankfully he did, because I never would have grabbed it otherwise.”

Each team went down in order during its next at-bat, allowing the hosts to triumph in their first game since a VPA Division II semifinal loss at Lyndon Institute last June. Hartford was 9-9 last year and is likely to be led this spring by Hayes, who struck out 10 batters while allowing seven hits and an earned run during the first inning.

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Hayes walked one batter for a team that played strong defense. An apparent error on a sixth-inning overrun by center fielder Nate Clark wasn’t scored as such by the Hartford dugout.

“The ball took a bad hop on him,” Vielleux said with a hint of a smile.

Clark also threw out a runner at the plate and on the fly during the third inning.

The Hurricanes’ runs came during the third frame. Leadoff man and No. 7 batter Christian Hathorn walked and took second on Trenton Bird’s sacrifice bunt.

Hathorn moved to third on a groundout, then scored when MAU shortstop Tanner Bushee dropped a Zach Johnson grounder and threw away his subsequent attempt to make a play at second base.

“That’s the reason we won,” Hayes said of the double error, which undercut a strong performance by Granger, who allowed one hit and two walks while striking out eight Hurricanes.

Hayes, a strapping lad who also plays soccer and ice hockey, has filled out during the past year, adding bulk to his height and giving batters pause not just with his physique but also his offerings. An above-average fastball is complemented by an outstanding curve, and a half-dozen Patriots swung and missed on third strikes at eye height.

“My control began kind of shaky, but it got better as the game went on,” Hayes said. “I try to set people up so they’re looking for an off-speed pitch, and then I surprise them up high.”

Hartford started only one senior, but Vielleux nonetheless has expectations of another playoff berth.

“Matt’s talented and has a great head on his shoulders, and nothing gets to him,” the coach said, noting that his ace threw 103 pitches, about a dozen fewer than his per-game average last season. “I’m impressed with our mental toughness and making no errors.

“I’m not concerned about our bats right now, because it was the first game. If we can make our own opportunies and not rely on the other team’s errors, we can be a dangerous team.”

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

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