By Tris Wykes
WHITE RIVER JUNCTION – Just about everything would have had to drop into place for the Hartford High baseball team to extend its season Wednesday against visiting U32 and senior pitching sensation Owen Kellington.
Instead, the top-seeded Hurricanes (16-1) discovered what so many Raiders’ foes have this season: that when the big righthander is on, your have little to no chance of victory. With Major League scouts in attendance and Grassi Field jammed with perhaps its largest-ever high school game crowd, Kellington threw a two-hitter with 17 strikeouts, one walk and one hit batsman.
“He lived up to the hype, for sure,” Hartford interim coach Kris Keelty. “I don’t think our boys were intimidated; they did the best they could. Early on, we had some good at-bats and then, the second half of the game, he went more to the breaking ball and that was pretty much curtains for us.
“We’d spent four or five days prepping for his velocity… but when you combine that with the breaking stuff he has and all the pressure of the moment, it was difficult for the boys to deal with that.”
Kellington regularly throws 90 mph or higher and also chucks a straight-drop curve that’s actually more impressive than his heat. He also appeared to offer some sliders, although many of those landed in the dirt. Still, the Hurricanes were so uncertain at the plate that they swung at pitches in the clay and over their heads.
“You were always thinking up there, because he’s always thinking,” said Hartford senior pitcher Alex Bushway, who allowed nine hits and four runs, all earned in a complete-game effort. “It’s hard to hit his off-speed stuff and he just out-pitched our hitters.”
Kellington also works fast. As in roughly 10 seconds between pitches. With hitters already on their heels, that pace is another factor in the UConn signee’s favor.
“We laid off some curveballs in the dirt early, and once Owen realized that the pitch he was really getting us with was the breaking ball, they just fed us what seemed like 2/3 breaking balls during the last few innings,” Keelty said.
“High school players have trouble with average breaking balls and his is elite.”
Fifth-seeded U32 used back-to-back singles, a sacrifice bunt and another single to go up, 1-0, in the fourth inning. The Raiders then began their next at-bat with three consecutive singles and a walk to make the score 3-0. Bushway retired the next two batters but another single brought in the visitors’ final run.
Hartford broke up Kellington’s shutout bid during the sixth inning. Zach Johnson led off with a walk, moved to second on a Jacob Dwinell single and used two wild pitches to cross the plate.
Bushway struck out six Raiders and walked two while hitting one of them. He threw 97 pitches while Kellington tossed 105.
“Alex didn’t pitch terribly,” Keelty said. “U32 did a good job of putting the ball in play and stringing together a few singles. We had a tough time matching that with Owen on the mound.
“I told the guys after the game they would have had to be damn near perfect to win this game and we weren’t quite there. We played well, but certainly not our best. The margin of error is so thin against an opponent like that.”
Said Bushway: “It was a very special season. We made a name for ourselves and for younger kids coming up as well.”
U32 (13-3) faces Spaulding in Sunday morning’s championship game at Burlington’s Centennial Field.
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