The Denmark baseball team, a squad that’s had to constantly fight the odds before and during their deep postseason run, seemed to be in a particularly advantageous position early on Tuesday night.
In the first game of Class 4A state championship matchup with Northside-Columbus, Denmark’s bats were active, and although they held a fairly comfortable 5-1 lead at one point, the Patriots had tied it back up. But like they had at many other points in the postseason, the Danes fought back, with an RBI single from Nic Ferrer giving them a 6-5 lead heading into the bottom of the sixth.
Denmark entered the bottom of the seventh with that same edge, just three outs away from a critical win in the first game of the series. Denmark quickly induced a popout for the first out, but minutes later, the Patriots had the bases loaded. A sacrifice fly to center brought the tying run in from third, but with two outs and extras seemingly on the horizon, Denmark’s hopes hadn’t yet vanished.
But they did just moments later. Northside’s Justin Veloz hit a flyball to left, and while Denmark left fielder Gray Wilson was able run to it just in time and get it in his glove, he couldn’t secure the catch, and the Patriots stormed the field in celebration of an 7-6 walk-off victory. The Danes walked to their dugout stunned and angry that they let such a pivotal game slip away at the last second.
“That’s hard for a high school kid,” Denmark coach David Smart said. “That's hard for a grown adult to overcome that. But you've got to be able to do that. That's what playoff baseball's about. When you face adversity, you overcome it.”
Ultimately, though, Denmark couldn’t recover from that loss, with the Danes falling 11-2 in the night’s second game to end their inaugural season as Class 4A runners-up. Just getting to the state championship the way Denmark did was a significant accomplishment, but to the Danes, just showing up was never the main goal.
“You don’t come to play in this game to lose,” Smart said. “To say that we're not disappointed, that's not true. We came in expecting to win. It hurts.
“The thing I told them was, ‘The feeling that you have in your stomach right now, don't forget it.’ I don't want them to forget that. I want them to hold on to that because that's what's going to drive us this offseason.”
The Danes’ first hit of the day was a triple, courtesy of Jack Kream in the first inning of game one. Kream came in on a JJ Corr single to give Denmark their first lead at 1-0.
After Northside tied the game in the second, Denmark took advantage of a well-executed hit and run, an error and RBI hits from Logan DeLong and Ferrer to take a 5-1 lead in the third. The Patriots tied the game at 5-5 with their own four-run rally in the fourth to set up the game’s last few frames.
“We felt good, but we knew no lead is safe,” Ferrer said. “They came up clutch, and we didn’t.”
Denmark was faulty in the field and at the plate in the second game of the night, with two total errors and just one hit over the first five innings. The Patriots scored six runs in the first three frames, taking advantage of walks and fielding miscues. Northside held a 10-0 lead in the middle of the sixth. Denmark was able to avoid the run rule, with Corr and Trevor Bryk hitting RBI singles to score the Danes' only runs.
“Good teams, if you give them extra outs or if you walk guys, they're going to make you pay,” Smart said.
Before the season, few, if any, predicted the Danes to defeat three No. 1 seeds and come two wins away from a title. Denmark accomplished their feat with no seniors, and with everyone set to come back for next year, they hope their newfound experience can take them to the next step.
“Most of these kids didn’t play varsity baseball last year,” Smart said. “They didn't know anything about the playoffs, (and) they certainly didn’t know anything about what it was like to play in a state championship game. We'll learn from this.”