Historic Hartford softball season ends in semifinals

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Serenitee Martel

Serenitee Martel —

Madylyn Matheson

Madylyn Matheson —BigZig Photography

By BENJAMIN ROSENBERG

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 06-09-2023 1:25 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — For all the history the Hartford High softball team made this spring, the Hurricanes’ season ended in an all-too-familiar way.

Hartford’s run in the VPA Division II playoffs came to a halt at Maxfield Sports Complex at the hands of Middlebury in blowout fashion for the second straight year. Making their first appearance in the state semifinals in 25 years, and hosting at this stage for the first time in program history, the top-seeded Hurricanes managed just four hits — none for extra bases — in Wednesday evening’s 10-2 loss to the No. 5 seed Tigers.

“The toughest thing is we didn’t even face any of the (other top) teams in Division II all year,” Hartford coach Danielle Tenney said. “We spent our last week in the playoffs trying to prepare to hit fast pitching, trying to get ready. And we knew they were going to be good hitters. This team came out stronger than other teams we’ve faced.”

Middlebury wasted no time jumping out in front, plating three runs in the first inning on a sacrifice fly, a delayed steal of home and a single that followed an error in the outfield. Pitcher Marina Grassi, Hartford’s lone senior, settled in after that for the next two innings, but the Hurricanes’ bats never really woke up.

Hartford (14-4) did get on the board in the bottom of the second when freshman outfielder Madelyn Matheson worked a two-out walk, stole second and scored on a single through the right side by freshman third baseman Serenitee Martel. That would be the Canes’ only hit in six at-bats with runners in scoring position, as Tigers pitcher Emma Deering struck out 11 — six of them looking.

“We watched a lot of third strikes that were probably close, and we weren’t as aggressive at the plate as we’ve been in the past,” Tenney said. “When we did (hit the ball), it went right at somebody. It felt like we couldn’t really catch a break.”

The visitors pulled away with five runs in the fourth, just one of which was earned. With runners at the corners and one out, Abigail Stafford bunted back toward the pitcher’s circle, and Grassi’s throw went wide of first base, allowing both runners to score. Following another error and a squeeze play, Deering tripled down the right-field line for an RBI, then capped the inning by scampering home on a wild pitch.

In all, six of the 10 runs Grassi allowed were unearned thanks to four Hartford errors.

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“We’ve just got to play strong defense,” Grassi said. “I definitely was a little tired, and I could tell I was struggling a little bit. I definitely had to trust the defense. Trust is a really important thing on this team.”

The Hurricanes plated another run in the sixth without a hit when sophomore outfielder Paige Vielleux created a diversion by walking between first and second, and although she was tagged out, the distraction allowed junior shortstop Madison Willey to score from third. Martel finished the evening 2-for-3, and junior first baseman Logan Evans and junior second baseman Becca Keelty each collected one hit.

In Tenney’s first season with Hartford in 2021, the Canes won their first playoff game in nine years, then reached the quarterfinals again last year. This spring brought a Southern Vermont League B Division title, the school’s first-ever No. 1 seed and the program’s third trip to the semifinals in its nearly 50-year history.

“In the last three years, every year we’ve been astronomically better,” Tenney said. “Every year, we keep setting our expectations a little bit higher, so when we don’t meet them, it hurts that much more. So it’s still a season to be proud of, but it’s exciting to see the growth in just three short years. We’re going to be a team in the top four, top five each year, and that’s a lot different than when I first started.”

Benjamin Rosenberg can be reached at brosenberg@vnews.com or 603-727-3302.