Our views: Janesville baseball is back

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Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Janesville Parker baseball team had success and elation this season, but it had heartbreak, as well.

In the end, the Vikings' exciting run toward a state title game fell just short—and in heartbreaking fashion.

Parker took two-time defending champion Sun Prairie to eight innings Tuesday before the Cardinals pushed across the winning run with two outs in the bottom half at Fox Cities Stadium in Grand Chute. Coach Brian Martin's Vikings had their chances in a semifinal game that featured thrilling plays and abundant mishaps, but victory eluded them.

While deeply disappointed with the final loss, coaches, players and fans have every reason to be proud of what this year's team accomplished and excited for the future of Parker baseball.

For that matter, all of Janesville can be enthused about the future. Crosstown rival Craig also had a solid year, and the Cougars have talent returning and a crop of accomplished young players ready for their shots at the varsity.

This year's big story, however, was Parker. The Vikings won 23 games and were the first Parker team in 22 years to qualify for the state tournament. The school now has made seven appearances at state, but this was its first since 1992.

That's a long drought for a program and a city that have long taken pride in their baseball. Janesville's youth program is one of Wisconsin's best, and its teams regularly contend for and win state championships.

Though the 1970s, '80s and '90s, Parker and Craig teams led by Hall of Fame coaches Dan Madden and Bob Suter routinely competed for Big Eight crowns and trips to state.
Madden took the Vikings to state six times between 1974 and 1992. The longest span between appearances was seven years, and Parker took home its lone state title in 1977.

In a story Sunday, Madden acknowledged the challenges of postseason play.

“Getting to the state tournament is tough,” he said. “In 1969, we had three guys off our high school team sign major league contracts, and they weren't able to get there.”

That offers more perspective into what Parker accomplished. It was a fabulous season capped off by an impressive  stretch that ended one game too soon.

Speaking of heartbreak, though, it's hard not to think about how close Parker came to making this a title-winning season.

The Vikings lost an absolute stunner to Sun Prairie in the final regular-season game, falling one out short of a Big Eight crown. Then came Tuesday's tough loss in Grand Chute.

The Vikings and their backers will have a hard time shaking visions of what might have been, but they should focus on how a team that won just seven games the year before worked hard, came together and achieved great things.

Thanks for the thrills, Vikings, and congratulations on a fine season.

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