By KELLY FENTON
The Denmark News
DENMARK – If you’d have told the Shawano Hawks prior to their first-round playoff game with Denmark that they were about to lay five goose eggs on the high-powered Vikings, they’d have liked their chances.
But you might hold Denmark in check over the course of an inning or two, maybe even three, but you can be pretty certain an offensive eruption is coming sometime.
And so it did.
Trailing 1-0 with one out in the fourth, the Vikings took advantage of two throwing errors on the same play, then went to work with the bats, scoring all five of their runs in the inning and escaping with a 5-1 win to advance to the regional final on Thursday in Denmark. The Vikings will be going for their third straight regional title.
“That’s what Denmark softball is known for, is getting back up when we’re down,” said catcher Hailey Aschenbrenner, who delivered a key two-run single in the decisive fourth. “We knew we were going to be fine. We just had to get the confidence going and (shortstop) Sophia Kinjerski is very good at getting us going.”
In fact, it was Kinjerski who began the inning by drawing a walk. She scored on two throwing errors following Alayna Derricks sacrifice bunt as five straight Vikings reached. All five scored.
Denmark takes on three seed Oconto Falls in the regional final on Thursday. One of second-seeded Denmark’s two North Eastern Conference losses came at the hands of Oconto Falls in the league opener in April.
Denmark, which has been on an absolute tear over the final half of the season, managed just six hits on Tuesday, but four came in a row during the fourth inning. Following the two errors, Kailyn Petitjean sent her first offering into left field for an RBI single to give Denmark a 2-1 lead. Kate O’Brien lined a single to center to score pinch runner Abby O’Brien.
Phoebe Jensen ripped another single to left, and following Caitlyn Duckart’s sacrifice, Aschenbrenner got all over her first pitch and lined a two-run single past the shortstop and it was suddenly 5-1.
“That hit felt so good,” Aschenbrenner admitted. “I don’t think I’ve had that good a hit this season that I’ve felt so proud of. But I give kudos to whoever started that inning (Kinjerski). When a team makes a tiny mistake that really gets us going for the rest of the game.”
Shawano came in 8-11 but played in the tough Bay Conference and had wins against quality teams. They wasted no time, putting together a couple of first-inning hits and scoring on a hit batsman to take a 1-0 lead.
While Abby Maricque got Denmark off to a promising start with a solid single to open the first, she was thrown out trying to score on Derricks’ fly ball to right and the Shawano pitcher set down the next seven in a row before Kinjerski’s one-out walk in the fourth opened the floodgates.
Nys pitched around a one-out single in the second and a two-out single in the third. Aschenbrenner helped her out with a remarkable diving catch over by the first-base dugout on a foul pop to start the fifth.
“That was a great feeling,” Aschenbrenner said. “I had to go a long way. My JV coach Collette Ullmer was all about diving for catches. She wasn’t here tonight but I did that for her.”
Nys, who was 13-1 in league play, went the distance, striking out four, walking two and allowing six hits.
“Grace has been in that situation before but it’s natural to have some nerves even as a senior,” said head coach Mike Vakselis. “She seemed to loosen up as the game went on and regained her confidence and things started rolling for her.”
Vakselis said his team didn’t feel any extra pressure as the favorites even trailing midway through the game.
“I don’t think we were nervous,” he said after his team improved to 24-3. “We knew if we took the right approach eventually things were start coming our way. Teams have held us down for a while at times this season but nobody has shut us out.”
After falling 9-6 to Oconto Falls in rainy, windy conditions early in the season, the Vikings rebounded to edge the Panthers, 6-5, in the rematch.