GRAND CHUTE — The stage was set for something truly special and remarkable as the Jefferson Eagles and Denmark Vikings met in the WIAA Division 2 state championship game at Neuroscience Group Field at Fox Cities Stadium in Grand Chute for the second time in as many years.
The Eagles (24-8) had been waiting an entire year for it, and when they heard that Denmark (28-3) overcame a late deficit over Pewaukee in their semifinal to make the rematch possible, Jefferson could not be happier.
“Oh yeah, we wanted this all the way. When we heard they beat Pewaukee, we were stoked for a rematch,” Jefferson junior infielder Tyler Butina said.
The title match would pit Redemption Arc against Cinderella Story, but there could only be one victor, and to the dismay of the Eagles, the Vikings were able to seal the deal in the bottom of seventh for a 6-5 victory.
“We fought hard, can’t do anything about it,” Butina said in a subdued voice after the fact. “We played all the way to the end, and sometimes you don’t come out on top.”
It was a topsy-turvy affair for both teams, full of clutch plays, momentum changing moments and mental miscues. The Vikings got on board first, picking up two runs in the bottom of the first and second innings before Butina absolutely crushed a home run, his first of the season, deep into center field that sent Tyler Fredrick home and made it 2-2 in the top of the third.
“I don’t know, I just knew I had to be aggressive,” Butina said of the homer. “I was being passive at the beginning of the game, and jumped on a fast ball and sent it out of here.”
But the Vikings refused to go away. Senior outfielder Hayden Konkol hit a triple and then made his way home on a Rheis Johnson grounder to put the Vikings back up, 3-2.
The Eagles quickly answered in the top of the fourth, thanks to runs from Andrew Altermatt and Drew Peterson that made it 4-3, and gave Jefferson it’s first lead of the game. It would not last for long.
The Vikings put up their own two running inning in the bottom of the fifth, and things looked grim before an Aiden Devine double sent Aiden Behm home to make it 5-5 late in the game.
Ardent fan support from both sides buoyed the players’ spirits, and senior shortstop Louis Serrano made a pair of big plays that led to two Denmark outs to keep Jefferson’s title hopes alive heading into the seventh. This was something missing from last year, when Serrano was unable to finish due to injury.
“Last year I could not finish the game, and when I went out, the guy they put at-bat struck out, so I wanted a rematch with them and to win today, since it’s my last year,” Serrano said.
The gold ball was nearly in Jefferson’s grasp, but the game came down to just a handful of errors. The Vikings held the Eagles scoreless in the top of the seventh, and then found the gaps in their defense to allow a Konkol double to send Abe Kapinos home for the Vikings second straight state title — and Jefferson’s second silver ball.
“We were a little slow on some coverages, but that’s part of baseball. We did a lot of things great, the little things we just got to clean up,” Jefferson head coach Greg Fetherston said. “You want to win championships you can’t be giving miscues on coverages.”
Despite coming up short, the Eagles can hold their head up high knowing they gave the Vikings everything they had. More than that, Jefferson’s trophy case is that much fuller.
“As sad as we are, we’re also taking back a silver trophy back to Jefferson. The community support has been phenomenal today,” Fetherston said, summing up the season. “I could not be more proud of my guys.”
Peterson started for the Eagles and allowed two earned on three hits in four frames. Butina entered to open the fifth, permitting three earned on six hits in the loss.
DENMARK 6, JEFFERSON 5
Jefferson 002 201 0 — 5 5 2
Denmark 111 020 1 — 6 9 1
Pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) — J: Peterson 4-3-3-2-1-2, Butina L; 2.1-6-3-3-0-2; D: DeGrand 4-3-4-3-2-2, Ovsak 2.1-2-1-1-1-2, Miller W; 0.2-0-0-0-0-0.
Leading hitters — J: Fredrick 2x2, Devine (2B), Butina (HR); D: Kapinos 2x3, Ovsak 2x4, Konkol 2x4 (2B, 3B).