BY GENE DELORENZO
HARTFORD — The Hartford Hurricanes defeated the Otters of Otter Valley 7-1 on Tuesday night, May 31, at the Maxfield Athletic Complex in Hartford.
The story of the night was sophomore right-hander Matt Hayes. The dynamic pitcher/infielder came within one out (and one errant pickoff throw by the catcher) of twirling a complete game shutout. He struck out 13, walked four, and gave up seven hits. He threw 105 pitches and used a variety of release points to command a quality two-seamer and a late-breaking curveball. It was a highly impressive performance.
The Hurricanes will advance in the Vermont state playoffs, while Otter Valley will finish its season at 6-11.
But it was almost not to be such a great night for Hayes. The Otters came out of the dugout swinging in the first inning and quickly loaded the bases on a walk and singles by Jordan Beayon and Fraser Pierpont. With only one out and the red-hot Ethan Blow stepping to the plate, the Otters were on the verge of a big inning.
Beayon had taken a hanging curveball into left field for his hit and Pierpont followed by lacing a line drive into left center on a so-so fastball.
But good preparation paid handsomely for the Hurricanes and their young pitcher. It was the third time the two teams had met in the past two weeks and the Hartford coaching staff (who was calling all the pitches) clearly had a plan.
Three straight curve balls to the right-handed Blow and he was gone. Down on strikes. Ben Adams, next up, had to see the sequence of pitches and was probably expecting the same. Three straight fastballs at the letters and he, too, was gone.
Back to back strikeouts had gotten Hayes out of the inning and set the tone for the rest of the night. A somewhat unorthodox plan had great results.
It was more of the same in the second inning as again Otter Valley would put two men on base with two out. Hayes would rise to the occasion by getting Luca Polli to pop-out to second base. In the third, once again Otter Valley put two on with only one out, only to see Adams strike out and Andy McErnerny fly out to right field.
That was the last problem Hayes would face until two out in the seventh inning when Polli and Pierpont would single to put runners on the corners.
Hartford lead by this time was 7-0 and the Hartford catcher attempted a pickoff at first base that was thrown away and the lone run of the evening for Otter Valley would score. Hayes would depart, relief pitcher Colin Veilleux would record the final out on a strikeout and the game was done and Hayes had his win.
On this night, Hartford would be blanked through the first two innings by OV’s Fraser Pierpont. He had pitched an outstanding game against Hartford last week only to give up four runs in the eighth inning of a 5-2 loss.
But his good fortune ran out a bit earlier this time around. Hartford would send 10 men to the plate in the third inning and explode for four runs. Pierpont would rely almost exclusively on a change-up mixed with an occasional fastball – but everything was straight.
With so much familiarity with his pitches, it was only a matter of time before the Hurricanes would get to the senior. Hayes would drive in the first run with a sacrifice fly following a Nate Clark double and single runs would follow on singles by Drew Martin and Sean Dutton. A fourth run came across on a fielder’s choice grounder. Pierpont escaped further damage by getting Joey Beggs on a flyball to center with the bases loaded to end the inning.
Jordan Beayon replaced Pierpont for the fourth inning and got out of a bases-loaded jam by retiring Sean Dutton on a ground ball. He struck out the side in a great fifth inning before running into trouble in the sixth. Three walks and consecutive hits by Clark, Martin and Dutton produced three more runs to push the score to 7-0.
The Otters responded with their sole run of the evening, but the damage had been done.
Despite the loss, Otter Valley baseball had an impressive season. The team was competitive in every game and clearly showed competency in many phases of the game. Their team spirit was tremendous and the coaching staff did an outstanding job of teaching the game. Only two seniors will graduate (Fraser Pierpont and Ethan Blow) and Coach Howe should have an influx of new players set to join the team.