Vikings fall a win short of state
SAUGET — In a sport measured by wins and losses, Danville's baseball Vikings found something almost as good.
It's a winning attitude.
Triad's Knights are going to state.
Danville's Vikings are going home. Proud.
As the score mounted in Monday's Class 3A super-sectional game, as Triad — a school located less than 20 miles from GCS Ballpark — built its lead so that no late-game heroics were plausible, Danville coach Gary Gritton made trips to the mound on three occasions to speak to postseason pitching workhorse Chase Thurston.
Before the 13-4 score went in the books as the final, Gritton fully intended to bring in a reliever.
"He talked me out of it," Gritton said. "He refused (to leave). He wanted to stay in the game. He's a bulldog. He competed until the end."
Though the scoreboard brought frowns to the Vikings, Gritton was smiling inwardly. That's the attitude and tenacity he wants.
"I'm sure glad he's coming back," Gritton said about the junior, a unanimous All-Big 12 Conference pick who plays shortstop when he's not pitching.
Thurston didn't want the easy way out. He didn't want to be the one who gave in to the overwhelming odds of the situation and raised the white flag.
"There was never any question," he said. "I wanted to be the one to end it or to extend it. I wanted to compete."
While Gritton is on the subject of attitude, he has a special place reserved for senior left fielder Reece Imler.
Imler skipped baseball as a freshman, played as a sophomore and was sidelined as a junior after having a tumor in his chest removed.
He returned this year, though Gritton admitted, "at the beginning of the year, he wasn't penciled in to play."
By the time the conference season started, however, Imler was a fixture in the outfield. On Monday, he drilled a bases-clearing three-run double with two outs in the third inning, cutting the Vikings' deficit in half (to 8-4).
"He has had a nice senior year," Gritton said. "He has been a solid contributor."
And, if not for his attitude, he might not have played this week. Or, last week.
"I turned down a Florida trip to be here," Imler said. "Disney. The beach. Go-karts. I delayed it twice."
It's not an option for him to leave today. The family who invited him returned to Danville on Monday.
Imler has no regrets about his sacrifice.
"Florida will always be there," he said. "It feels awesome to play in this (minor league) ballpark."
The doggedness of Thurston and Imler tells folk what is important about Danville baseball. It's not what is shown on the scoreboard.
It's what pours out of their hearts.
Gritton addressed it while speaking with a postgame throng of reporters.
"What's special about this group is that, top to bottom, it's not the most talented we've had," he said, "but they're fighters. They worked hard to improve. They had a great team spirit."
The season ended on a Monday that started with a heavy rain but ended with sunshine pouring over the field that is located 5 miles from downtown St. Louis.
One word kept coming to mind as the Vikings took turns speaking with the assembled journalists: overachievers.
"Our goal this year," Imler said, "was to exceed expectations. We did what we could."
Successfully, too, as one of the Elite Eight teams in Class 3A.