By Greg Oshust
For the Forsyth County News
Denmark is only one series win away from a state baseball championship in its first season after defeating Blessed Trinity 8-4 in the third and deciding game of the Class AAAA semifinals on Wednesday.
The Danes scored seven runs in the first two innings to take control of the game and go on to advance to the AAAA finals, where they will play Northside-Columbus in a best-of-three series in Rome. The first two games are scheduled for next Tuesday, with game three to be held next Thursday if needed.
The win continues what has been a magical run for Denmark (21-17), which opened its doors for the first time last August.
The Danes swept Northwest Whitfield and St. Pius X in the first two rounds and beat West Laurens in three games to reach the final four.
“It’s pretty surreal right now,” Denmark coach David Smart said. “You kind of want to relax and enjoy it, but you still have to begin to prepare (for the finals) and things like that. I’m sure once I get settled down, it will hit me a little bit. When the playoffs began, our intention was to make a deep run, keep going as long as we could and keep getting better. That’s one of the things I’m proud of, that we keep getting better and the kids have bought into it.”
Matt Cassandra went most of the way on the mound for the Danes, giving up four runs and six hits in six innings to take the win. He also contributed at the plate, going 2-for-3 with a home run, two RBIs and three runs scored.
“Matt was great,” Smart said. “He’s our game three guy. He does a good job of keeping the ball down inside and throwing strikes. He got that big hit for us. He’s been big for us all year.”
Carson Russell was 2-for-2 with three RBIs, while Trevor Bryk was 2-for-3 with two RBIs and Jack Kream was 2-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored for the Danes.
Denmark hit the ground running in the bottom of the first as Gray Wilson, Kream and Cassandra led off for the Danes with singles to load the bases. Russell hit a 2-run double to score Wilson and Kream, while Bryk proceeded to single to bring in Cassandra to make it 3-0.
The Danes came back with four more runs in the bottom of the second. Kream singled to drive in Teddy Davenport and Cassandra hit a two-run homer to bring in Kream, then Bryk doubled to score J.J. Corr to increase the lead to 7-1.
Denmark added one more run in the bottom of the fourth when Russell’s double scored Cassandra.
“We got some runs down early,” Smart said. “We got a big hit in the first inning from Carson and that got us jump started. Fortunately, we got some big hits there and the second inning was the same thing. We got some big hits. Even when it was 8-2 and 8-4, (Blessed Trinity was) still in it. They are so good, so dangerous. We made some good plays in the field and our guys did a good job throwing strikes.”
A Denmark win in the state championship series would be the county's first since Lambert did it in 2014. Northside-Columbus was also a stop in Smart's coaching career: He left that position in 2014 after coaching there for six seasons.