BY AARON PATTERSON
One final positive memory of Danville Stadium is what Danville Vikings baseball coach Gary Gritton had hoped for his group of eight seniors on Monday.
Topping the list were standouts Chuckie Robinson and Chase Thurston who have already etched their names in the Danville baseball program record books.
Thurston, who will play next season at Eastern Illinois University, finished with a 1.86 career earned run average and a .349 batting average.
Robinson will leave the program holding the school record for games played and a record 20 home runs. With the possibility of being drafted and immediately making the jump to the professional ranks, Robinson has already committed to play at Southern Mississippi.
But for now, their focus is on finishing their high school careers strong, and that meant winning their final home game. The Vikings have struggled all season, and their regular season ended in more disappointment losing 6-4 to Charleston in eight innings.
“It’s pretty disheartening to lose a game like that,” said Robinson. “We were ahead most of the game. Mike (Vascura) pitched a good game and his defense was behind him. They just got together a few hits toward the end of the game and we just didn’t score.
“I think overall we played a good game as a team. We got 12 hits, which is really good for us. I think we can take a lot of positives from this game and move on.”
The Vikings have struggled offensively batting a program low .185 as a team. But in their final three games, they managed 27 hits and scored 23 runs — something that might have seemed improbable earlier in the season.
From the start, Danville appeared to have the poise and confidence of a team destined for its third consecutive win. The Vikings (10-19) tallied nine hits in the first five innings and held a 4-0 advantage. The win seemed to be theirs for the taking. But the threads that held the positive momentum together slowly began to unravel. The Trojans pulled to within 4-2 in the sixth inning, tied the game in the seventh, and scored two more in the eighth to secure the win.
Danville left the bases loaded in the sixth, and left two runners on in the final two innings. Of the 12 runners the Vikings left on base, seven were in scoring position.
“The disappointing part of the game was, we had them on the ropes there,” Gritton said. “Bases loaded and nobody out and we get a strikeout which can’t happen. Bases loaded with one out, we don’t get a run. We’ve got to move the baseball in those situations.
“We had a leadoff guy on in the seventh,” he added. “It’s an obvious sacrifice bunt situation and we don’t get it down. It costs you. It’s a simple game. We can live with us hitting .185 as a team. We lack some offensive talent, but just get a bunt down. Situational hitting. Execution. That’s where the game was lost right there. We had Charleston on the ropes.”
Much of what kept Danville’s hopes alive early in the game was the Vikings’ ability to get out of jams. The Trojans (19-10) had the leadoff batter reach base in seven of the eight innings. But through the first five, Vascura was able to pitch his way out of trouble. It wasn’t until the sixth that Charleston used a walk and two singles to score its first two runs of the game.
“I was just trying to get ahead of batters,” Vascura said. “The first couple guys were getting on, but I was just staying with the method of getting ahead of them and hoping to get some ground balls and some double plays, which I did a couple times.”
Vascura allowed only one walk and struck out five, and was able to keep the Trojans off guard by locating his fastball on the outside corner. But as his pitch count began to rise, so did the Trojans’ hit total. Eight of their 16 hits came in the final three innings.
Ten of Danville’s hits came from the top five spots in the batting order with Robinson going 3-for-3, Austin West getting a hit, and Thurston, Vascura, and Nolan First each getting two. Vascura also drove in three runs and First had one RBI.
Despite the loss, the Vikings have shown slight improvement offensively and are hopeful the momentum will carry over into Thursday’s 4:30 p.m. Edwardsville Regional semifinal against Alton.
In order to make a postseason run, the Vikings might need to find the same magic that worked for them during the 2010 regional when, as a No. 4 seed, Danville won a regional title knocking off three teams (Champaign Central, Urbana, and Champaign Centennial) that had defeated the Vikings during the regular season. They went on to beat Lincoln in the sectional semifinal before falling in the Mt. Zion Sectional championship to eventual Class 3A state champion Chatham Glenwood.
“We’ll see if we can make a run in the postseason,” Gritton said. “It’s a disappointing day. I really wanted to send the seniors out with a win. Chuckie and Chase have meant so much to the program. They are both record holders. They’ve won a ton of games, and they’ve played some unbelievable baseball for the Danville Viking program. It really would have been nice to send them out with a big win. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t meant to be today.”