By Alex Strouf, The Denmark News
When the Denmark High School varsity softball team travelled to Luxemburg last Friday, May 26, it wasn’t about winning the regional championship. It wasn’t about the rivalry being renewed on a bigger stage. In fact, it wasn’t even the stage they were on.
Mentally, it was about redeeming themselves from last year.
Last season, the Lady Vikes were ranked second in their regional. The highly anticipated match-up was Luxemburg-Casco and Denmark in the opening WIAA sectional game.
It never happened.
The Lady Vikes took a devastating 6-4 loss at home in their opening playoff game to seventh seeded Southern Door.
Since then, the mouths of Denmark players and coaches have been bitter.
This year, they had another opportunity.
Denmark, #3, travelled to Luxemburg to take on the #2 Lady Spartans for the 2017 WIAA Regional championship game.
A hot start resulted in a hot result.
The Lady Vikes scored two in the top of the first inning, thanks to junior Taylor Ullman. Ullman hit a deep ball to the fence, scoring one and recording a triple. Ullman would score the latter run in the inning.
The Lady Vikes would never look back.
Junior Jayden Laurent batted in Lexie Habeck in the top of the sixth inning, before Abby Maricque added another run for Denmark in the top of the seventh inning. A 4-0 lead was all they needed.
Sophomore Grace Nys provided a spark on the mound, striking out seven batters in a two-hit shutout. Nys continued her phenomenal pitching in dramatic fashion, as she shined in the biggest game of her life.
“Grace is a competitor. She’s been preparing for this moment for a very, very, very long time,” said head coach Mike Vakselis. “We have all the confidence in the world in her.”
The first player to host the plaque was the lone senior for the Lady Vikes, Leah Hansen. Hansen is a four-year letterwinner and three-time All-Conference infielder for the Lady Vikes.
“Having so many fans there making the atmosphere wild was unbelievable,” said Hansen.
Hansen hoisted the plaque at home plate, before running to and being bombarded by hugs, screams, and tears from her teammates. The scene was incredible.
As the Lady Vikes claimed their first regional championship since 2005, it’s safe to say the bitter taste from last year is out of their mouths.
“We were looking forward to this moment to get that game out of our heads. That was our focal point,” said Vakselis. “We went one game at a time, but once we got to regionals that was our focal point.”
Vakselis has said for the entirety of this season that the Lady Vikes can do anything this year. They backed up their coach’s word on Friday.
“It’s a long time coming. These girls have worked their you-know-what’s off for how many months now,” said Vakselis. “Pitching clinics, hitting clinics, everything we’ve done this year. I couldn’t be happier for them.”
The fast start is what Vakselis credits as the ultimate game changer.
“It’s huge. Especially when you’re on the road, you want to take their crowd out of it. Especially when you’re playing our rivals, at a place like Luxemburg, they feed off their fans. It’s always nice to get that confidence early.”
Moving forward, Vakselis is sticking to tradition, rituals, and what the team does best. For him, that means sticking with the same tradition he’s had with interviews all season long. He ends with the same five words.
“One game at a time.”