The vibe of the Denmark baseball team was felt even on the least consequential plays on Thursday in the Danes’ second-round state playoff series against St. Pius X.
On Jack Whitlock’s first pitch to the first batter in the second game, he got a bunt to the right of the mound. He stepped to field it, grabbed it barehanded, and whipped a throw over to first for the out. The Danes’ dugout responded with a roar of approval.
“That was just momentum from the beginning,” Denmark junior Trevor Bryk said. “’Oh, we’re making plays like this? We’re ready.’”
That Danes have been on a tear lately, at the most opportune part of the season to do that. They won five of their last six region games to squeeze into the playoffs as a No. 4 seed, and then swept No. 1-seeded Northwest Whitfield in the first round. And on Thursday, with not much anxiety involved at all, they took two from St. Pius X, 7-1 and 8-3, and moved on to face West Laurens next week in the state quarterfinals.
The Danes’ first two playoff matchups, against a No. 1 seed from a weaker region and a No. 3 in St. Pius X that had an overall record of 12-20 entering Thursday, have highlighted a strength the Danes have developed.
By playing in Region 7-4A, they faced some of the best programs, pound-for-pound, in the state, including perennial powers Marist and Blessed Trinity. Against the latter team, which has been ranked among the best in the country, Denmark dropped both matchups, but both were one-run games.
“Now that we’ve played all the hardest teams, and we’ve hung with them, we know we can just fight with anyone,” Bryk said.
And Thursday turned out to be a fairly relaxed outing. In the first game, Denmark got runs in the second and fourth innings before cracking it open in the fifth, an inning highlighted by Bryk’s three-run home run. Dalton Hansard threw all seven innings for the Danes that game.
In the second game, the Danes went up first again, with Bryk clearing the bases with a double to propel a four-run fourth inning. St. Pius X came back with three runs in the bottom of the frame, though, and has runners on second and third with one out. But Whitlock got out of the inning without any more damage, with help from nimble defensive plays from J.J. Corr and Jack Kream. And in the bottom of the frame, Denmark put up four more runs to breathe easy again.
“We’ve been swinging the bat a lot better here lately,” Danes head coach David Smart said. “Our approach has been pretty good at the plate.”
The experience of reaching the state quarterfinals with no seniors and no prior experience together is a familiar feeling for Bryk in particular: He did the same thing as a forward on the Danes’ boys basketball team.
Each run has its own quirks, but they were similar in a few important ways: These Danes teams knew that they had talent, and apart from that, they didn’t know much at all.
But they weren’t just going to say no.
“I thought that we had a chance, if we kept getting better,” Smart said. “And we did that.”