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Baseball: Denmark rallies for split with North Gwinnett, forces Game 3
Francesco Capocci
Denmark junior Francesco Capocci delivers a pitch Wednesday during Game 1 of the Danes' first-round Class 7A playoff series against North Gwinnett. Photo by Colin Hubbard for the Forsyth County News

By Colin Hubbard

For the Forsyth County News

Five outs away from getting swept out of the first round of the Class 7A playoffs, Denmark's bats woke up. 

Trailing North Gwinnett 5-3 in Game 2 and needing a victory to force a deciding Game 3 on Thursday, the Danes scored two runs in the sixth inning and two more in the seventh to win 7-5 and split the doubleheader. 

Connor McGinn tied the game with a two-out ground-rule double in the sixth and Kyle Henley had the go-ahead RBI in the seventh. 

Denmark head coach Jamie Corr knew the team's first-round matchup against North Gwinnett was going to be challenging for a multitude of reasons. 

“A week ago Monday, North Gwinnett was in first place in their region,” Corr said. “We knew that this would not be a regular four seed coming to play us. They are a great ball club and we absolutely had our hands full today. We’ll have our hands full tomorrow. I’m very, very proud of the boys for never getting down.” 

Game 1 was a disappointing loss for the Danes. They lost 3-1 to the Bulldogs despite a great effort on the mound from ace pitcher Francesco Capocci, who tossed six innings of two-run, 10-strikeout ball. 

Unfortunately for Capocci, two runs earned him the tough-luck loss after his offense couldn't do much of anything against North Gwinnett starter Gavin Zoeller and reliever Josh Close, who combined to allow just one run. 

In must-win mode in Game 2, the Danes jumped out to an early 3-0 lead in the third after scoring all three runs on North errors. 

With Jake Freedman on the mound for the Danes for Game 2, things went south for the senior in the bottom half of the third when North responded with five runs on five hits. 

With the lead trimmed to 3-2, North’s Mack Cromer launched a two-run home run to center to give them the lead. North tacked on a fifth run with a fielder's choice later in the inning. 

Freedman was replaced by Dylan Trova in the fourth and the senior was virtually unhittable. The senior struck out five of the first six batters he faced and went on to pitch the final four innings allowing just two hits while striking out seven. 

“Trova was one of our best starters all season, and he needed some time off to rest his arm,” Corr said. “It’s really great to see him back at full strength tonight. He knew we needed a stopper. After they put up the five runs, Freedman did a great job of getting us out of that inning with no more damage.”

Trova’s dominance on the mound gave the Danes new life, rallying to tie the game in the sixth. With the bases loaded and McGinn stepping into the box, the senior launched a ball to right that hopped over the wall for a double. 

The ground-rule double tied the game 5-5 but cost the Danes the go-ahead run after Hayden Fox was forced to return to third as a result of the ball hopping over the fence. 

Heading to the seventh with the game tied, Denmark’s Sammy Leis led off the inning with a double down the left-field line. With one out, Henley smacked a ball into right field to put the Danes out in front 6-5. 

Henley later stole second and took third after the ball bounced into center and came around to score on a double to left from Landon Armstrong. 

Leading North 7-5, Trova shut the door in the bottom half and earned the win on the mound to force a Game 3. 

“After the Game 1 loss, there was no panic button,” Corr said. “Even when they put up a five-spot in the third inning, nobody in the dugout panicked. Everyone just said let's get some quality at-bats, string some together, put some runs across and it came down to some big hits.”

Corr said he and his team are looking forward to Thursday’s rubber game that will decide which team advances to the second round. 

“There’s nothing more exciting than a Game 3 in the playoffs,” Corr said. “Everything is on the line. The key is to come out and jump out ahead. That’s what we’re going to try and do tomorrow.” 

Game 3 is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday.