The pivotal moment of the Denmark baseball team's state semifinal doubleheader against Blessed Trinity on Tuesday felt a bit like the Danes' season as a whole.
Jack Kream had humble ambitions for this particular swing in the bottom of the sixth: Danes leadoff hitter Gray Wilson had just singled, and Denmark head coach David Smart called a hit and run, trying to start a rally with the Danes down 3-1. Kream just wanted to make contact. But the pitch was inside, and the barrel of his bat found it squarely, and it took flight into the trees beyond the right field fence, tying the game at 3-3.
"I didn't think it was going over at first," Kream said. "And it just kept going."
Three innings later, Denmark won on Logan DeLong's walk-off walk. And with the 4-3 victory, the first-year program without a senior, the one that entered region play at 5-7 and entered the state playoffs as a No. 4 seed, continued to shoot past expectations and moved a win away from a berth in the Class 4A state finals. The Danes, which lost the first game of the evening 6-3, are set to play again at Blessed Trinity on Wednesday at 5 p.m.
"They didn't really panic or anything – they just kept playing," Smart said of Denmark. "That's our thing: Just keep playing the game, no matter what happens."
Despite the gap in age, experience, and seeding, Denmark was not a massive underdog to the Titans entering the game. The Danes had opened region play with a pair of losses to Blessed Trinity, but they were by a run apiece. Denmark also had won 11 of its last 12 games heading into Tuesday.
And they did take the first lead of the first game, loading the bases with three singles in the first inning and scoring one run on an error. Blessed Trinity responded with two runs in its half of the inning, then two more in the third and sixth to offset Trevor Bryk's two-run home run for the Danes.
"We didn't play poorly," Smart said of the first game. "They just got some big hits, and their guy did a really good job. So it wasn't like it was all 'Woe is me' or whatever."
Denmark trailed for just as long in the second game. An RBI single from Steele Chambers gave Blessed Trinity a lead in the first inning, and another Chambers single made it 2-0 in the fifth. Logan DeLong's RBI double put the Danes within a run, but Trey Baker put one out to right to make it 3-1.
Kream's home run was soon to follow, and with it came a surge of momentum from the Danes. Freshman Drew Clare took over for starting pitcher Jack Whitlock with two outs in the seventh, and he stranded two baserunners in the top of the ninth to set up the game-winning walk. The celebration didn't start immediately, as DeLong initially hesitated to flip his bat away, but the Danes soon burst out of the dugout.
This is the Danes' second playoff series to go to a third game, after their quarterfinal matchup against West Laurens went to the same stage. And they expected the Titans, a team that's been ranked among the best in the country, to be accordingly tough.
But with just three pitchers used over the first two games – Dalton Hansard threw six frames for Denmark in the first – and a win in their pockets, they're certainly in position to continue this improbable run.
"I think we have a good chance," Kream said. "We used their best pitching. We've just got to come out and fight."