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Roll of the Dice Doesn’t Pan Out for Hurricanes

St. Johnsbury shortstop Jarrett Bridges makes the grab on a relay throw to force Hartford's Greg Shinn (11) at second base during the fourth inning of yesterday's Vermont Division I baseball tournament game at Hartford High School. Valley News -- Greg Fennell

St. Johnsbury shortstop Jarrett Bridges makes the grab on a relay throw to force Hartford's Greg Shinn (11) at second base during the fourth inning of yesterday's Vermont Division I baseball tournament game at Hartford High School. Valley News -- Greg Fennell

White River Junction — There’s a risk involved in every gamble. That’s why it isn’t called insurance.

Hartford High baseball coach Jarrod Grassi entered yesterday’s Vermont Division I baseball tournament opener with St. Johnsbury with a conundrum: Throw ace Dylan Terino on the mound or — with a potential date at No. 2 South Burlington awaiting — save Terino in favor of someone else. So Grassi rolled the dice.

The pained expression on the coach’s face following the seventh-inning Hurricanes’ 9-7 loss to the 10th-seeded Hilltoppers told the result.

“It was something I thought about and thought about,” Grassi confessed following a deep sigh. “We got ourselves into a hole. … It’s one of those things. Time makes you think.

“I gambled. And it didn’t work out for us.”

St. Johnsbury (9-8) jumped on starting pitcher Steve Cerrone for seven runs in the opening two innings, chasing the right-hander before the second frame was done. Terino relieved and kept the Canes (9-7) in the game, important given the six-run rally in the fifth that cut the visitors’ 7-0 lead to 7-6 with the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position.

After that shaky frame, however, the Hilltoppers’ Colton Hudson settled down and surrendered just one inconsequential (and unearned) run in the seventh. The righty finished with a seven-hitter, walking four and fanning just one but inducing Hartford into a pair of inning-ending double plays.

“It obviously started out favorable for us, getting that lead,” St. Johnsbury coach Marc Choiniere said. “We knew they were a good team. We knew they were well-coached and they were very tough, and we knew somewhere they were going to have a run in them. Fortunately, for us, we cut it off in time.”

Grassi pinned Cerrone’s difficulties to his off-speed pitches, particularly early in counts. An error by the Hartford starter also contributed to St. Johnsbury’s early avalanche.

Cleanup hitter Zach Hale played a key role in both rallies. The third baseman doubled home Hudson and Moises Nurko in St. Jay’s three-run first inning and loaded the bases when he was hit by a pitch in the second. Center fielder Griffin Comerci followed the latter with a sacks-clearing triple for the 7-0 lead.

The drive ended Cerrone’s pitching day. Terino came in from the outfield and threw the remaining 51∕3 frames, giving up six hits and one walk, hitting two batters and striking out four.

“He has been as good as anybody that we’ve seen all year,” Grassi said.

Hartford grounded into twin killings to end modest uprisings in the third and fourth innings. The fifth was something else entirely.

The Canes loaded the bases on Hudson with one out on a Cody Smith double, a Cam Gaudette single and a Connor Brooks hit-by-pitch. An infield error on a Cerrone grounder plated Hartford’s first run, and Terino added another with an RBI single to cut the gap to 7-2.

A Greg Shinn RBI single, a Hudson wild pitch and another error on a routine fly brought in three more runs for Hartford, which closed to within 7-6 on an RBI infield grounder from Smith. A base hit would have put the Canes ahead, but Gaudette popped to first to end the comeback.

Terino’s only hiccup on the mound came a half-inning later. Nurko doubled and scored on an Andrew Graciano single, and Comerci netted his fourth RBI of the day with a single to score Graciano and give Hudson some cushion at 9-6.

Terino scored on another outfield drop in the seventh for Hartford’s final run. With a runner on second and the tying run at the plate, Comerci made a spectacular diving catch of a sinking Smith liner in shallow center to end the game and Hartford’s season.

In producing their first winning record since capturing the D-I state title in 2009, the Canes’ won their last six games and eight of their final nine heading into yesterday. Grassi’s gamble didn’t pay off, but Hartford’s progress did.

“These guys have bought into it, they’ve worked hard and that’s what I told them out there,” Grassi said. “We’ve got a young group. We’re heading in the right direction.”

Fungoes: Hale reached base in a variety of ways for the Hilltoppers, walking and getting hit by pitches twice to go with his first-inning double. … Nurko, Comerci and Jarrett Bridges all had two-hit days for St. Jay. … Shinn and Terino both singled twice for Hartford. …Dave McGinn, St. Johnsbury’s athletic director and a former coach at both Thetford Academy and Oxbow High, came south to catch the game. … Hartford graduates five: Terino, Justin Devoid, Joe Sweeney, Steve Roswell and Pat Roberts. Terino (Castleton State) and Devoid (Colby-Sawyer) are both hoping to play baseball in college, Grassi said.

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.