Before the 2019 season even started, Denmark’s softball team felt like it had something to prove.
The Danes earned a win in their first-ever game as a program last year, but after that, there was not much to celebrate in their inaugural season. Denmark struggled to a 3-17 overall record in 2018, winning just one region game in the process. Naturally, a primary goal for the still-young Danes was to fill their second year with many more happy moments.
“I guess our attitude coming into it was different because we wanted to show people that we weren't as bad as last year,” Jessie DeNardo said. “We bonded a lot better as a team this year -- we're playing more together rather than (as) individuals.”
That togetherness has helped Denmark get off to a hot start in their second season. With a 16-3 blowout win in just four innings on Thursday night, the Danes improved their Region 7-4A record to 4-1, and are right in the thick of the playoff hunt.
“I've gotten used to them, they've gotten used to me,” Denmark head coach David Smart said. “I think we're better on all facets of the game … The fact that we've had a year to play and a year to mature has helped a whole lot.”
Denmark’s bats have played a big role in its success so far, with DeNardo and Morgan Kilmer each playing well coming off first-team all-county seasons. But in the first inning against the Spartans on Thursday, that kind of offensive firepower was just a bonus. Seven walks and an error helped the Danes bat around their order in the bottom of the first inning, with Denardo and Kilmer coming away with doubles.
By the time the third out was finally made, it was 13-0, and the starters were pulled in favor of JV players for the second.
“We were able to get out to an early lead in that situation to strike fast,” Smart said. “We got to give some people a chance to play -- that's the big thing right there. They helped us some with the walks and we were able to produce some big hits.”
But some of those hits also came from new faces not present during the Danes’ first season of existence. Some players that transferred to Denmark weren’t eligible to play before this year, like third baseman Kayla Smith, who came in from West Forsyth, second baseman Ellery Campbell, right fielder Emily Armstrong and left fielder Kallie Rowe. Having those new pieces in place has helped Denmark become deeper and more balanced.
That deeper roster has also helped in the circle. Taylor Gajdik was and still is Denmark’s best pitching option, but having other legitimate pieces there has helped take some pressure off.
“Taylor's done a really good job and is throwing the ball a whole lot better this year,” Smart said. “Last year she was a freshman, and that's tough for a freshman to go out there and pitch just about every day. We've got a little bit of help for her this year, that way we can take some of the load off of her.”
With more than a year together, the Danes are now much more familiar with each other. With the goal of reaching the playoffs clearly in reach early in the season, that could make a significant difference down the line.
“It helps with trust a lot, especially knowing each other's abilities,” DeNardo said. “Just knowing each other's strengths and weaknesses just helps us step up. If (someone) has this weakness you can step up.”