By KELLY FENTON
The Denmark News
DENMARK – The weather for the Denmark softball team’s battle with Oconto Falls was cold and gloomy.
The result wasn’t much better.
The Panthers, who return virtually everyone from last year’s fifth-place team, including a pair of all-conference first-teamers and one second-teamer, took full advantage of uncharacteristic wildness from Denmark pitching, cashing in four of nine walks on their way to a 9-6 victory on Thursday afternoon in Denmark.
The Vikings rallied for four runs in the seventh to inject some drama into an otherwise one-sided affair but came up short to fall to 1-1 in North Eastern Conference action. Denmark opened the season by pasting Clintonville 19-0 on Tuesday.
The loss, though disappointing, was not without its bright spots. Foremost among those was junior left fielder Caitlyn Duckart’s big game at the plate and in the field. Duckart delivered two doubles to the fence and went 3 of 4 with two RBI, while also making a diving, run-saving catch in the third. Catcher Hailey Aschenbrenner also picked off two runners at third. Both are first-year starters as Denmark attempts to find replacements for the graduation of six starters from last season’s state-qualifying team.
Oconto Falls put up a three-spot in the first after the first four reached on two singles and two walks, the second of those two free passes forcing home the first run. A two-out single on a 3-2 pitch made it 3-0.
Denmark had scoring opportunities in the first two innings, but left three stranded, two in scoring position.
The Panthers tacked on in the third, eventually plating a leadoff double on a two-out single. That inning featured both Duckart’s diving catch and one of Aschenbrenner’s third-base gun-downs.
Denmark got on the board in the third when Alayna Derricks reached on an infield single, stole second, went to third on Grace Nys’ groundout and scored on an error.
Nys was able to pitch around an error and an infield single in the fourth when first baseman Abby Maricque snagged a line drive and stepped on first for an inning-ending double play. But Oconto Falls played add-on in the fifth without benefit of a hit, scoring on a pair of leadoff walks and a wild pitch to extend the lead to 5-1.
Denmark had a great opportunity to chip away in the fifth with leadoff singles from Maricque and Sophia Kinjerski. Both moved up on Derricks’ ground out, but the inning ended with Lexi Penovich’s hard shot to shortstop.
The Panthers all but put it away with four in the sixth, the result of two walks, a couple of bloop singles and a throwing error, and Denmark trailed 9-1.
The Vikings wouldn’t go away, though. After Aschenbrenner opened the sixth by grounding out sharply to third – one of several tough-luck hard outs on the afternoon – pinch hitter Kate O’Brien beat out an infield hit and Duckart ripped a double over the right-fielder’s head. But Denmark could get only one across from the promising scenario on Tara Dellemann’s ground out.
Oconto Falls’ bid to add some insurance to its 9-2 advantage came up short after the Panthers loaded the bases with one out in the seventh. Relief pitcher Tori Delleman got a strikeout and Aschenbrenner picked off another runner at third, eventually tagging her out in a rundown.
Derricks started Denmark’s one-out bid for an improbable comeback when she reached on an error in the seventh. Tori Delleman flared a single to right. Following Penovich’s liner to short, Aschenbrenner was safe on an error to load the bases and O’Brien and Duckart followed with two-run base hits as Duckart picked up her second double.
The Vikings finished with 10 hits. Oconto Falls also had 10 hits, but nine walks and three Denmark errors made the difference.
Oconto Falls improved to 2-0 in league play. Denmark hosts West De Pere on Monday in non-league action before traveling to Wrightstown on Tuesday.