Hartford Grad Allard a UV Nighthawk Seeking Growth

  • White River Junction Post 84 pitcher Jordy Allard delivers against visiting Lakes Region on June 21, 2016. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News file — Tris Wykes

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/2/2018 11:41:31 PM
Modified: 6/2/2018 11:41:48 PM

Manchester — Jordy Allard was one month into his freshman year at Southern New Hampshire University when he received a text message from Upper Valley Nighthawks general manager Noah Crane. Do you want to play with American Legion again this summer, Allard remembers it reading, or do you want to be a Nighthawk?

“I’d like to be a Nighthawk, if that’s possible,” Allard replied. Days later, Allard signed his first New England Collegiate Baseball League contract. The Bridgewater native, Hartford High graduate and 2016-17 Vermont Gatorade baseball player of the year has been on the team’s ever-changing roster since it first came out in October.

As if there was any doubt.

Upper Valley, the NECBL’s newest summer collegiate baseball team, begins its third season on Tuesday night with a visit to the Ocean State Waves in South Kingston, R.I.

Watching the Nighthawks as a spectator for the past two years made an impression on Allard. The chance to play his first season of summer ball for an organization still trying to become the region’s hometown team, in front of family and friends at the familiar surroundings of the Maxfield Sports Complex, was one thing.

The chance to show young, aspiring Upper Valley baseball players that a kid from Bridgewater can earn a spot on the area’s collegiate summer baseball team was too good to pass up.

“I didn’t know if I was going to be able to be a part of it as soon as I got to college,” Allard said during an early May interview at SNHU. “I knew I wanted to work my way toward it. Getting that call, I freaked out.”

For Crane and the Nighthawks, signing Allard was a no-brainer.

“I’ve known about Jordy for a long time,” Crane said last week. “With his talent and the chance for him to represent the local community, it was a win-win.”

Allard went to Woodstock Middle School until eighth grade, then graduated from Canaan’s Cardigan Mountain School in 2013. It was during those years that he met Hartford athletes Tyler Hamilton, Dylan Spencer and Hunter Perkins while playing 12U and AAU baseball during the springs and summers. When it came time to choose between Woodstock and Hartford for high school, Allard chose to follow his friends.

“That group stayed together from when we were 12. We went from AAU in middle school all the way through high school and Legion,” Allard said. “That really helped me. Those kids, my friends, were really part of why I went to Hartford and why I wanted to be part of that baseball program. ... All those guys that I stuck with from 12 (years old) made me love the game more.”

Baseball, he said, always was his sport of choice. He started playing catch in the yard when he was 4, before he was old enough to join a team. Allard also played soccer and hockey, another passion of his, during his days as a Hurricane.

When the Nighthawks arrived in the Upper Valley in 2016, Allard was beginning to warm up to the idea of playing ball in college. Suddenly, it seemed like an option.

“Once they started, for me, it was this crazy dream come true,” Allard said. “Not even for playing. Just to go and watch these guys from (NCAA) Division I and Division II, college baseball players at the highest level. ... I was there every chance I got after Legion games.”

During his senior season at Hartford, in 2017, Allard’s pitching numbers improved as the slew of graduating students forced Hurricanes varsity coach Jarrod Grassi to transition the hitter-relief pitcher into a starting role. Allard finished the season with a 7-0 record with 78 strikeouts, eight hits, two walks and a 0.18 earned-run average in 39⅓ innings. He was given Gatorade’s top honor that season and was named a Valley News Athlete of the Year.

It was enough to get him on SNHU pitching coach, and Bennington, Vt. native, Zach LeBarron’s radar.

“The first time (LeBarron) saw (Allard), he loved him,” said SNHU baseball head coach Scott Loiseau, whose team made it to the NCAA Division II championship with a 41-17 overall record. “He came back into the office and said, ‘We’ve got to get this kid.’ ”

Transitioning to the collegiate level — and to concentrated training as a starting pitcher after years of relief pitching and hitting as a high schooler — has admittedly been a challenge for Allard. He made only five appearances as a Penmen freshman, striking out five with eight hits and three walks in a mere six innings.

“You’re sometimes pitching against 24-year-olds,” Loiseau said. “You’re playing against a completely different age. At the same time, we expect a lot out of our guys. ... The style of program you go into where you might play may be totally different than the way you’ve been coached. There’s a lot that we expect (our pitchers) to know. Allard is a really bright kid, and he’s done a really good job of handling that.”

Allard said the transition to collegiate baseball has challenged him, both mentally and physically.

“It’s a huge jump,” he admitted. “The more I’m on the mound, the more I do feel comfortable here. But mixing in that second pitch, you have to command everything. If you miss a spot, you’re going to pay for it.

“It has been hard for me,” he added. “Some people can look at it as you want to stop. You’re just not that good anymore. The challenge is you have to keep going and get better. If you keep going, it will reward you. There are baseball gods that will reward for your hard work.”

The wakeup call came during a fall game against Stonehill College. Allard was having an off game and wasn’t throwing as hard as he normally does. A pitch he left up in the zone left a Stonehill bat and went 400 feet to center. The next inning, he hung a breaking ball. Same result.

“That was the moment where I was like, ‘OK, this isn’t Vermont anymore. I’ve got to focus up,’ ” he said.

When he was playing in Vermont, both with Hartford and White River Junction Post 84, Allard’s talents were amplified. Throwing a fastball as hard as he could down the middle of the plate would, most of the time, do the trick. Relying on physical strength does not always work at the college level, however. That realization has forced Allard to pay closer attention to the game.

His struggle to transition into college ball has been intensified by the region where he grew up. Vermont is not known for developing top-level collegiate baseball players. Spring seasons often are shortened by the region’s long winters, and some athletes choose other sports instead of patiently waiting for the snow to melt. An athlete like Allard being noticed by a strong D-II college program like SNHU, Crane said, is an exception.

“The handful of us who went on to play and be successful in college, that story is becoming rare,” said Crane, a Woodstock native who played collegiate baseball at Massachusetts. “To have someone that unique and talented, with the drive to come out of high school baseball and succeed at a high level in college? I wish there were more. ... The reality is that Jordy is one of very few over the last five years or so that are local and can compete.”

Still, Allard said, playing Vermont baseball gave him something a more traditional path to college wouldn’t.

“The talent isn’t as good (in Vermont), so you’re not playing the level of kids you would if you were in Massachusetts,” he said. “But one of the things playing Vermont baseball gave me was confidence. ... They put me in pressure situations, and I got to play all four years instead of playing jayvee. I got experience against older kids all four years I played Legion and high school.”

Both LeBarron and Loiseau said developing as a baseball player in Vermont does not necessarily mean you are doing so with a disadvantage. In Allard’s case, they said, natural talent is what piqued their interest.

“When you’re talking about level of competition, I really think it’s irrelevant if you have the right character and the right makeup as a student-athlete,” Loiseau said. “His stuff is clearly good enough to be pitching at our level.”

Part of the reason for Allard’s limited workload this spring is because of a surplus of starting pitchers on the roster. Penmen starters Mitchell Powers, Andrew Lalonde and Shane McDonald — who started a combined 38 games this spring — all are seniors or graduate students. Endy Morales and Matthew Messier — who started 11 games combined — are both junior transfer students.

Both LeBarron and Loiseau are adamant that with a little seasoning, Allard can be a big part of the team’s future.

“I think this year was a developmental year for him to get acclimated to the college level,” said LeBarron, a SNHU graduate. “Next year, I’m super excited to work with him. Hopefully, he gets the innings and the opportunity he deserves.

Added Loiseau: “His delivery is really simple and really repeatable. He’s going to be really good for us. ... We’re probably going to lose 250 innings this year. He could fill a big chunk of that next year.”

Watching the Nighthawks, Allard said, has helped him prepare for college baseball. He got an up-close view last summer when his family hosted former Nighthawks and Missouri State pitchers Nate Witherspoon and Jake Lochner. He also has befriended Pace University starter and NECBL all-star Danny Wirchansky, who gave him a better idea of what he had signed up for.

But Allard also admitted he’s returning to the Upper Valley with more than just baseball in mind. It’s a feeling he’s had since last summer, one that started while he was at a Nighthawks game wearing his Post 84 uniform from a game he played the night before. He was approached by two kids with a baseball and a pen. They asked for Allard’s signature.

“I’m not on the Nighthawks, you know,” Allard remembered telling them.

“We know,” they said. “You pitched for Post 84 yesterday. You were amazing.”

That interaction altered Allard’s view and goals for the season.

“I hope me being there can help bring kids in,” he said. “I want to do well (with the Nighthawks). But whatever happens, I want kids to know that you can do this. I’ll do anything I can this summer — if there’s a little kid from anywhere in the Upper Valley, I want them to know that if they want this, they can get it. They can do anything.

“I feel loved, and I want to give the love back. I want to do well for them.”

Josh Weinreb can be reached at jweinreb@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.

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