DENMARK – It wouldn’t be too hard to make the case that neither team wanted to win. Or to take it a step further and say that neither team deserved to win.
But, in the end, Sturgeon Bay was just a little bit more generous to Vikings than the Vikings were to the Clippers, who dropped a routine fly ball in the bottom of the seventh and sent Denmark to the regional finals with a wild 4-3 victory on Tuesday afternoon in Denmark.
“We’ll take it,” said Denmark head coach Bill Miller, who earlier this month picked up his 400th victory at the school. “We live to play another day. This was one of those games where we persevered. Put the ball in play and maybe something will happen.”
The Vikings (17-6) surrendered two unearned runs and issued seven walks and trailed 3-2 heading into the seventh. With their bats quiet almost all afternoon, the one-run deficit seemed larger, but Josh Pelischek drew a leadoff walk and Jack Satori was hit with a pitch. A wild pitch and a steal put runners at second and third, representing the tying and winning runs. But a pair of pop outs brought the Vikings to perhaps their final batter of the season in Travis Wellner. The junior catcher tied it with a soft chop to third that he beat out for a hit.
Jake Engelbrecht then sent a liner to the center fielder and the teams appeared headed for extras. But the ball caromed off the outfielder’s glove and the Vikings had somehow found a way and are now slated to host Luxemburg-Casco in the Division 2, Section 2, B region championship today in Denmark, weather allowing.
“I was just looking to hit the ball,” said Engelbrecht. “I watched it hit his glove and then I just saw it was out. I hope we have destiny. It would be awesome if we could go all the way.”
Sturgeon Bay concludes a 15-4 season.
Brennen Miller was stellar in three innings of scoreless relief, allowing two hits and two walks and striking out a pair.
“He’s been doing that the better part of the year,” Bill Miller said. “The team has trust in him. It’s good that we have him to come in there like that.”
Sturgeon Bay was the grateful beneficiary of several Viking gifts throughout the hot afternoon and those gifts began arriving early in the form or a leadoff walk by starting pitcher Cole Paplham in the first. A stolen base, a sac fly and a ground out staked the Clippers to a 1-0 lead.
The Clippers failed to cash in on a walk and an error in the second, and Denmark broke through to take the lead in the bottom half. It all started with two outs, when Brennen Miller and Brennan Genz worked deep into the count to deliver singles. Starting pitcher Jake Schneider then issued three consecutive walks – to Reece Piontek, Pelischek and Satori – and the Vikings took a 2-1 lead.
It was short-lived thanks to a leadoff walk in the third, followed by a single and a throwing error that knotted things at 2-2.
“Seven walks and the errors,” Miller said. “We’re just putting ourselves in bad situations. I don’t want to call it destiny. We’ve still got to overcome the obstacles on this team. We’re limited with hitting and fielding, but we’ve been able to overcome that the better part of the year.”
Not all the defense was bad. Engelbrecht made a tremendous backhand stab of a sinking liner in right-center with two on in the fifth.
Schneider settled down after his bout of wildness, facing just one more than the minimum over the next three innings and striking out four. Wellner was erased on a caught-stealing after his one-out single in the third and Piontek was left stranded after his base hit with two outs in the fifth.
The Clippers reclaimed the lead in the fourth on another unearned run. A single, a walk and another throwing error put Sturgeon Bay up 3-2. It might have been worse had Paplham not consistently bore down in tense circumstances. In three straight innings he left two runners stranded as the Clippers finished with 10 men left on base.
Hard-throwing lefty relief pitcher Trent Ehlers looked tough in the sixth before yielding a pair of two-out walks, but the Vikings couldn’t take advantage. Those walks, however, proved pivotal, getting the top of the Viking lineup to the plate in the bottom of the seventh. Ehlers was lifted after the walk and hit batsman to open the seventh and Jared Van Bramer coaxed easy infield pop outs – the Vikings’ fifth and sixth pop outs of the afternoon – before Wellner tied it with his infield hit.
Paplham went four innings and allowed two hits and three runs – one earned – while walking five and striking out seven. He was one of six Viking seniors whose high school careers were on the verge of ending before Denmark’s remarkable rally.
The Vikings finished with five hits, while Sturgeon Bay managed four.
It was the second straight seventh-inning rally for the Vikings, who scored five in the seventh to beat Manitowoc in the regular-season finale last Wednesday.