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Hartford Legion Sweeps Bellows Falls

  • Dylan Terino of Hartford tags up while outside the reach of Brighton Bischofberger of Bellows Falls during their Legion Baseball game in White River Junction, Vt. Thursday, July 17, 2014. Hartford  won 2 - 0. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Dylan Terino of Hartford tags up while outside the reach of Brighton Bischofberger of Bellows Falls during their Legion Baseball game in White River Junction, Vt. Thursday, July 17, 2014. Hartford won 2 - 0.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Dylan Spencer of Hartford reacts after walking Austin Stack of Bellows Falls Post 37 in White River Junction Vermont Thursday, July 17, 2014. Hartford won 2 - 0. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Dylan Spencer of Hartford reacts after walking Austin Stack of Bellows Falls Post 37 in White River Junction Vermont Thursday, July 17, 2014. Hartford won 2 - 0.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hartford Post 26 pitcher Hunter Perkins, left, celebrates with catcher Brandon Gaudet, right, after closing out an inning against Bellows Falls Post 37 during their 2 - 0 wint in White River Junction, Vt. Thursday, July 17, 2014. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Hartford Post 26 pitcher Hunter Perkins, left, celebrates with catcher Brandon Gaudet, right, after closing out an inning against Bellows Falls Post 37 during their 2 - 0 wint in White River Junction, Vt. Thursday, July 17, 2014.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Dylan Terino of Hartford tags up while outside the reach of Brighton Bischofberger of Bellows Falls during their Legion Baseball game in White River Junction, Vt. Thursday, July 17, 2014. Hartford  won 2 - 0. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Dylan Spencer of Hartford reacts after walking Austin Stack of Bellows Falls Post 37 in White River Junction Vermont Thursday, July 17, 2014. Hartford won 2 - 0. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Hartford Post 26 pitcher Hunter Perkins, left, celebrates with catcher Brandon Gaudet, right, after closing out an inning against Bellows Falls Post 37 during their 2 - 0 wint in White River Junction, Vt. Thursday, July 17, 2014. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

White River Junction — Ah, summer. Warm weather, outdoor recreation and overall relaxation. But on Hartford High’s baseball field Thursday, there was nonetheless a gut check for the local American Legion squad.

Entering the evening’s play, Hartford and visiting Bellows Falls Post 37 were neck-and-neck for the fourth and final playoff berth in the state’s South Division. By winning the completion of a rain-delayed contest, 2-1, and then the night’s regularly-scheduled contest, 2-0, Hartford finds itself in the driver’s seat for postseason inclusion.

“We control our own destiny,” said Hartford coach Jarrod Grassi, whose team is 6-7 and concludes the regular season with five games in four days. “The kids stepped up tonight and found a way. We knew at the beginning of the season that we could be competitive, and our goal was to make the state tournament. I bet it’s been 15 or 20 years since we’ve done that.”

What makes Hartford’s playoff push more impressive is that it’s been accomplished with a young lineup drawn almost exclusively from the town’s high school and youth league rosters. The program’s primary purpose is to give those players experience that can be turned into high school achievement, but why not do some winning along the way?

“The biggest difference this summer is that we’ve had our core group here almost all the time,” Grassi said. “We’ve started the same lineup more often than ever before.”

Leading the way Thursday was rising freshman Hunter Perkins, a 5-foot-10, 206-pound pitcher and first baseman who has long been the talk of area youth-league aficionados. Hitting third Thursday, he drove in what proved to be the winning run during the second game’s first inning when he belted a line drive-double. Leadoff man Jacob Perkins, who began the bottom of the first with a single, scored on his brother’s blast, which zipped over the center fielder’s head and short-hopped the 386-foot fence.

Hunter Perkins produced a pair of ground outs to the second baseman during his next two at-bats, but Grassi was pleased with the youngster’s approach.

“He’s not going to see a lot of fastballs, especially after he does that with one of them,” the coach said. “He hasn’t been able to square up contact on as many pitches as I think he would have liked, but to be in his position and to be getting that kind of respect at his age is amazing.

“He got down in the count a couple times tonight and battled back and got the ball in play.”

Perkins also came through on the mound, relieving starter Dylan Spencer with no outs and a runner on first base during the second game’s third inning. Number 34 induced a double-play grounder from the next batter and ended the visitors’ at-bat with a strikeout. Perkins allowed no runs or hits in 42⁄3 innings of work, striking out nine of the 15 batters he faced. His only blemish was a fifth-inning walk.

“The season’s gone pretty well,” Perkins said. “It’s definitely been different to look up to everybody instead of having everyone look up to me. It’s a challenge, but I like having to work for everything.”

The game’s scoring ended in the second inning, the result of a run-scoring single by Jordy Alard. The bouncer into the outfield plated Dylan Terino, one of only three high school graduates on the Hartford roster.

In contrast, Bellows Falls was led by starting pitcher Mike LaBeau, a righthander coming off his freshman season at Castleton State. With a compact and powerful delivery, the former Bellows Falls Union High ace allowed just three hits during a complete-game effort, striking out six batters and walking none.

Hartford concludes the regular season by visiting Brattleboro on Saturday, playing a doubleheader at Rutland on Sunday, hosting Lakes Region on Monday and traveling to South Royalton on Tuesday. Should Hartford finish fourth in the South Division, it would likely draw North power Essex in the eight-team state tournament’s opening round, Grassi said.

“It’s going to be tough to win our opening game if we get there, but just having the experience is great,” he said. “Besides, even if you end up in the losers’ bracket, who knows what happens then?”

Notes: Post 37 (7-9) played without standout infielder and recent Woodstock High graduate Doug Avellino, who missed the contest while on a trip to California to attend a wedding. … Hartford’s players each pay $200 to be on the team. … Hunter Perkins, who’s also a football running back and linebacker and a basketball guard, and classmate Tyler Hamilton recently concluded an overlapping AAU season with the Keene (N.H.) Junior Swamp Bats organization. … The play of the night was a full out dive and catch during the second inning by Hartford center fielder Codi Smith.

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com or 603-727-3227.