Vikings cap off remarkable turnaround with trip to state
How does a team that won just three of its first 19 baseball games in 2013 make the WIAA state tournament one year later?
That's the question that many around the state will be asking themselves now that they see Janesville Parker as part of next week's tournament schedule.
The Vikings punched their ticket to state Tuesday at Riverside Park. They'll play Bay Port in a Division 1 quarterfinal at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday in Grand Chute.
The journey there—to a 22-5 record after winning seven games last year—involved a motivating late-season run, a surging sophomore pitcher and plenty of hard work.
“This feels beyond amazing,” senior Collin Powers said after the Vikings took care of Verona in a sectional final, 4-1. “We have a bunch of guys here that are hungry for wins.
“In the offseason, we all worked and worked and worked. Even during the year, we put everything we had into every practice and every game, just to show what we're capable of.”
Not even head coach Brian Martin could have fathomed this type of run one year ago today.
His team took its lumps and learned lessons in all kinds of fashions in 2013. Exactly half of the Vikings' 18 losses came by two runs or less. Six of the other nine came by at least seven runs, four of them by double digits.
“We had a bunch of one- or two-run games where we'd get down late and stay down,” Parker center fielder Cullen Osmond said. “This year, we had a lot of experience, and we've won those one-run games.
“I think the biggest thing is the experience, knowing what it's like to be in that situation and finish the game.”
Martin also isn't surprised his Vikings entered sectionals as contenders, because they turned the corner late last year, including in the postseason.
Parker was the ninth seed in an 11-team sectional, but it edged Madison Memorial 9-8 in an opener and then stunned top-seeded Madison West, 6-2, to reach sectional play.
The Vikings won four of their last six games to close out the year. Not coincidentally, Martin began starting catcher Will Theisen during that stretch. As a senior this year, Theisen earned first-team all-Big Eight Conference honors.
“We made that little run at the end and we got to (sectional semifinals),” Martin said. “Knowing that we returned most guys, I had a feeling we'd be a pretty good team. To get to this point? I'm not sure that was necessarily something we talked about right away. But as the season went on, guys really came into their own.”
No one progressed more than sophomore left-hander Hunter Van Zandt. He went from a freshman getting his feet wet to the being named the Big Eight's top player by near-unanimous decision.
Van Zandt is 10-1 and has allowed two earned runs or fewer in 10 of his 11 starts.
“He took us from probably being a pretty good team to one that's now obviously one of the last eight left,” Martin said.
What a difference a year makes.