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End of the Road: Hawks end Viking’s remarkable run

The Denmark News - Staff Photo - Create Article
Brandon Dvorak delivers a pitch during Denmark's win at Sturgeon Bay on Tuesday, May 28, 2024. Denmark's season ended the following day with a loss to Xavier. Photo by Christine Schroeder

By Kelly Fenton

The Denmark News

DENMARK – Nothing lasts forever.

Not cars. Not household appliances. Not the roof atop your house.

Even Route 20, the longest highway in America, has its terminus.

Dominance in sports is not exempt from this reality.

On Wednesday afternoon, a clearly underseeded Xavier came into Denmark and flashed the kind of elite play that had been the hallmark of the three Denmark state championship teams and brought the Vikings’ postseason streak to an end with a 12-0 victory.

Denmark had won 19 straight postseason games before Wednesday on their way to state titles in 2021, 2022 and 2023 and was making a bid for an unprecedented fourth consecutive Wisconsin state championship.

The Hawks demonstrated why it has never happened before, using their own experience and talent to overpower a young and depleted Denmark team.

The sixth-seeded Hawks did the same thing the previous day to North Eastern Conference champion Luxemburg-Casco by an 8-0 count. Xavier hasn’t allowed a run since May 17, which covers four games. Their 13-9 record and fifth-place league finish is testament to just how good the Bay Conference is but the seeding committee still gave them only a six seed.

“They didn’t surprise us,” said Denmark first-year co-coach Luke Kraschnewski. “They’re a good program. They play big schools and always have good athletes so we knew we were going to have our hands full. We knew we had to play our best game of the year and we obviously didn’t.”

Two years ago Denmark knocked off Xavier in a close sectional game. 

Retired head coach Bill Miller, who was an assistant on this year’s team, was reflective.

“It’s been a while since we’ve lost the last game of the season,” he said. “It’s hard to see these guys come to the end of the year. I feel bad for the players. They worked hard all year. We were young but other teams play with young guys. You’ve just got to come back a year better, not just a year older.”       

Tyler Brightman kept Denmark hitters off-balance all day and despite not throwing particularly hard, fanned eight over five innings, allowing four hits.

Denmark co-ace Grant Schroeder struggled with his command from the beginning and a leadoff walk to start the game resulted in Xavier’s first run of the game. While the Vikings hit two balls hard in the first inning they went 1-2-3 and the solid contact against Brightman mostly ended there.

“Obviously they’ve been there and done that so we were looking for a tough game,” Xavier coach Tim Harrikkala said admiringly of Denmark. “And we knew Schroeder was a tough pitcher. Our goal was to work the count on him and he was a little off early so he got his pitch count up and we came up with some runs and that settled us down early.”

Catcher Ebyn LaForest gunned down a runner at third to end the second but four singles in the third plated two more and Denmark trailed 3-0. The Hawks blew it open with a five-run fourth when the first five Hawks reached – three singles and two hit batsmen – and the lead grew to 7-0. 

Brightman would strike out six straight before Josh Gajeski and Tommy Bienapfl singled with one out. Gajeski finished with two of Denmark’s five hits. Xavier cracked out 16 hits, four from Parker Bleck.

Connor Paplham came on in relief of Schroeder in the fourth but also couldn’t stymie the high-powered Hawks who tacked on six more runs over the final four innings. 

The Vikings also didn’t help themselves defensively, committing five errors, though they led to only one unearned run.

Denmark entered the season with plenty of question marks and the pressure of following the unprecedented success of the past three Viking teams. Unlike the past two teams who followed the first title team, this one had few holdovers and plenty of first-time varsity players.

Adding to their long odds, Denmark lost ace Jaycob Dittmer to arm soreness toward the end of the season as well as center fielder Garrett Taicher.

Despite that, Denmark vied for a conference title, finishing third, and ran of 13 straight wins at one point. The Vikings concluded an 18-7 season. Denmark reached the regional final with an 11-1 win over Sturgeon Bay a day earlier.

The Vikings bid farewell to four seniors: second-leading hitter and leading RBI producer Ebyn LaForest, aces Schroeder and Dittmer and Brandon Dvorak, who went 5-0 and posted an ERA of just over 1.00.

For Dittmer it is the end of a remarkable four-sport career that included a state championship as a member of last year’s 4x100 relay team and three state baseball championships. 

“These four years have been a blast,” he said. “Just playing baseball with my friends. I just wish it would have lasted longer. I’m gonna get over this, move on, get my arm better and get ready for college next year.”


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