DENMARK – The 9-8, nine-inning thriller on Friday in Seymour that propelled Denmark High School to a second straight regional softball championship didn’t have everything.
There were no triple plays, for instance. Nobody leaped over the fence to take away a home run.
But, boy, there was just about everything else, including a dramatic game-ending 9-5 double play courtesy of the strong arm of right fielder Breanna Collins, who cut down a Seymour base runner trying to advance to third on a medium range fly ball for the final out of the wild affair.
That was just one of many great moments in a topsy-turvy game, but it was easily the most decisive one.
In upending the top seed, the fourth-seeded Vikings travel to West De Pere to take on the sectional two seed in the semis on Tuesday afternoon.
“I’m on cloud nine,” said Denmark head coach Mike Vakselis after his team improved to 20-9. “I couldn’t be more proud or happy for the girls, especially our seniors. Those girls have battled and battled to get to this point and it’s just a testament to our team character.
“As coaches and players, we had a lot of confidence,” he added. “I mean, we were here last year. We had a lot of respect for Seymour but we tell the girls respect the opponent but don’t fear them.”
Denmark broke an 8-8 tie in the top of the ninth when Abigail Metz delivered her third hit and fourth RBI with a two-out single to right that brought home Abby Marique, pinch running for Abby Chada after her ringing one-out double to the fence in right-center.
“You’ve got to take everything you can get,” said Metz. “Run everything out. It’s the finals. You think the ball is going to be caught, but you have to run it out. The seniors didn’t want this to be our last game.”
Denmark ace Grace Nys bore down one more time in harrowing circumstances. A leadoff single and a sacrifice to open the bottom of the ninth put the tying run at second before Collins made her strong throw to end it. It was the second time in two weeks that the senior right fielder cut down a runner trying to get to third.
“I don’t know, it’s kind of routine for me,” said Collins, who also had a pair of hits and an RBI and scored twice. “I’ve actually begged my coaches to put me at a different position, but they’re like, no, we need you to throw to third. I told them I never throw to third, but now it’s happened twice this year and they were both big moments.”
Denmark’s mettle was tested when it took a four-run lead into the sixth and came out of the inning tied 8-8. Two of the Seymour runs came home after the defense twice opted to try to get the runner at the plate instead of taking sure outs. The Thunder actually had an opportunity to take the lead with a runner at third and two outs, but Nys got a strikeout to end it.
“Coach just said, forget about the mistakes,” Kinjerski said. “He told us we can still win this. Stay confident and keep doing what you’re doing.”
Nys once again faced turmoil in the seventh as Seymour put two on with two out. But she coaxed a fly ball to center fielder Abby O’Brien and the teams moved on to the eighth. Lexie Habeck picked up her third hit of the game to start the inning and eventually reached third base. She was stranded, but Nys pitched a 1-2-3 eighth.
Metz staked the Vikings to a 2-0 lead in the first, delivering a two-out single past the first baseman to bring home Taylor Ullman and Collins. That hit snapped a six-game hitless streak for Metz.
“I feel like I just hit that ball hard,” Metz said. “She made a good try at it. I came into this game with confidence and I was happy to get us off to a good start.”
A double play off a liner to Ullman at third and Chada’s pickoff of a runner at first helped Nys escape a second-inning jam, but the Thunder, who came into the game with just one loss, erupted for four runs on four hits in the third to take a 4-2 lead.
Denmark got one of those back in the fourth when Metz lined a one-out single and pinch runner Hailey Aschenbrenner came home on Habeck’s two-out single to left.
Habeck then made back to back defensive gems in left in the bottom of the inning, twice sliding on her knees to snag soft line drives that seemed destined to drop in.
Denmark broke through with a five-run fifth, sending nine to the plate. O’Brien led off with a solid single and Ullman was hit with a pitch. Collins tied things up with an RBI single that plated O’Brien. After Taylor Wochenske was hit with a pitch to load the bases, a wild pitch and Metz’s grounder to second brought two more home and the Vikings led, 6-4. Sofia Kinjerski delivered the big blow, a no-doubter, two-run home run to left center, the first home run of her career, and Denmark suddenly led, 8-4. That was the score until the Thunder (19-2) tied it with four in the sixth.
“All I knew was I needed to get Taylor Wochenske home from third,” Kinjerski said. “But when I hit it, I said, wow, that’s going far. This game was a great experience. And Grace Nys did an amazing job going nine innings in the heat.”
Nys allowed 13 hits and struck out five. She walked four and hit a batter, but she got the outs when she needed them, stranding nine runners.
“I am definitely so proud of Grace,” Metz said. “She’s been working hard all season to prove herself and she’s been one of our most valuable players. We definitely couldn’t have done this without her. You could tell she was running out of gas as the end, but she just stuck it out.”
Denmark (19-9) finished with 12 hits, three each from Metz and Habeck and two apiece from Collins and O’Brien.
“We’ve been working for this since November,” Metz said. “We didn’t get our final goal of conference, but we knew regionals were coming and we had to get ready.”