The Denmark baseball program is not where it was supposed to be right now – in a good way.
"We're ahead of schedule," Danes head coach David Smart said on Thursday evening. "But we're glad."
Smart said that as he and the team traveled back from Denmark's Class 4A state quarterfinal series against West Laurens in Dexter. He was exhausted, but also elated, because Denmark had just grabbed a state semifinal berth in its first-ever season, winning 7-2 on Thursday after splitting a doubleheader on Wednesday, winning 9-1 and losing 10-6.
The Danes are set to face Blessed Trinity on the road starting next Tuesday, and they're the first county baseball team to reach the state semifinals since Lambert did it during its title run in 2014. That Longhorns team, interestingly enough, was coached by current Denmark athletic director Jamie Corr.
Denmark, which entered the postseason as a No. 4 seed, has now won three playoff series, over No. 1-seeded Northwest Whitfield, No. 3-seeded St. Pius X, and No. 1-seeded West Laurens. The Raiders, Denmark's most recent opponent, carried a 27-5 overall record into the quarterfinal series.
But the Danes, who have been on a collective offensive hot streak since the postseason started, didn't slow down much on their trip to middle Georgia. They collected 14 hits in the first game on Wednesday, and while the nightcap ended in a Denmark loss, the Danes still managed a five-run frame to send that game into extra innings.
West Laurens actually led for the majority of the time on Thursday, taking a 2-0 lead from the top of the first inning into the bottom of the fifth. But Denmark tied it in that frame on Matthew Cassandra's RBI single, and in the bottom of the sixth, RBI hits from Gray Wilson, Jack Kream and J.J. Corr, all with two outs, gave the Danes a five-spot. Cassandra, who had gotten the start on the mound, finished the Raiders off in the seventh.
"Usually playoff baseball comes down to who makes the fewest mistakes and who gets the big two-out hits," Smart said. "We were fortunate enough to get those today."
The fact that few – if any – observers expected the Danes to reach this stage of the playoffs has relieved a considerable amount of pressure, which has likely contributed to the run they're on.
"That's kind of been our thing the whole time," Smart said. "Nobody really expected us to be here, and nobody expects you to do anything."
They're not brushing off the challenge of the upcoming series, however, against a Blessed Trinity team that has been ranked among the best in the country this year. But Denmark doesn't have to dream up a competitive scenario against the Titans: They've already been there, having lost both of the previous matchups against their Region 7-4A counterparts by a run apiece.
The Danes' improvement in year one is already obvious, given where they are now. Smart hopes that they aren't done quite yet.
"One of the bit things we've talked about in the playoffs is (to) keep getting better," Smart said. "Let's not try to stay where we're at; let's keep getting better and see how good we can be."