Bill Miller witnessed a rare sight Monday.
The Denmark baseball coach watched one of his pitchers allow eight runs in a loss.
“I just got shelled pitching in Wiffle ball,” Vikings senior left-hander Jack Collins said.
An intrasquad game of Wiffle ball in the gym on a rainy day likely could be the only time Miller has to witness one of his standout pitchers endure a performance like that this season.
The Denmark pitching staff may simply be too deep for that to happen in an actual game.
The Vikings boast four college recruits in its rotation, making it perhaps the deepest rotation Miller has had in 24 years as the program’s head coach.
“We’ve been fortunate,” Miller said. “We’ve had one or two on every team at least. This year is a little bit abnormal to have four quality pitchers like this.”
The “abnormal” collection of arms is a key reason why Denmark is off to an 8-0 start and is the top-ranked Division 2 team in the Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association state poll.
The foursome of Collins, Riley Pelischek, Tanner Umentum and Derek Van Pay has combined for 76 strikeouts and a 0.86 ERA over 541/3 innings this year.
“We all have confidence in each other when we’re on the mound,” said Pelischek, who has 29 strikeouts and a 0.41 ERA over 17 innings. “Our group has put in a lot of work. We all have the mindset that we want to be a top-level team.”
The Vikings haven’t won a conference title or advanced to the WIAA state tournament since 2005.
Denmark possesses enough talent on the mound to change that with four pitchers capable of throwing in the mid-80s on a consistent basis.
Collins and Pelischek are going to the University of North Dakota, an NCAA Division I program in Grand Forks.
The pair of lefties took different paths to receive that opportunity.
At 6-foot-3, Collins entered the Vikings’ rotation right away as a freshman when the team’s ace was Corey Fischer, who is currently a junior with Kansas State. Collins went 6-3 with 80 strikeouts and a 1.29 ERA last year.
Pelischek was undersized as an underclassman before going through a growth spurt. He went 5-0 with 45 strikeouts and a 0.72 ERA last season.
“We had a very good pitching program growing up,” said Collins, a second-team all-conference pitcher last year. “Every Saturday morning, we would go and do pitching.”
Van Pay and Umentum are both righties.
Van Pay, a DII recruit for St. Cloud State, moved to the Denmark school district after middle school and settled into the rotation toward the end of his sophomore year. After going 4-0 with 26 strikeouts and a 2.07 ERA last season, he has 18 strikeouts and hasn’t allowed an earned run over 14 innings this year.
Umentum, a DI recruit for Chicago State, saw limited time on the mound as a freshman. He went 5-2 with 58 strikeouts and a 2.49 ERA as a junior. He has 20 strikeouts and a 0.82 ERA over 17 innings this season.
“They’re all a little bit different,” said Miller, who was inducted into the WBCA Hall of Fame in February. “But when they’re on the mound, I think the rest of the team has confidence in whoever is out there that they’re going to do the job out there.”
The four senior pitchers know their performances on the mound will be even more crucial for Denmark, which has to replace the top two hitters — Alex Loberger and Jake Reetz — in the Bay Conference.
The Vikings finished second to Hortonville in the Bay last year before sustaining a 5-0 shutout loss at home against conference rival Luxemburg-Casco.
“Everybody on our team has a bad taste about what happened last year in the regional finals against L-C,” said Umentum, one of 11 seniors. “We don’t want to let that happen again.”
Denmark (506 students) has been the smallest school in the Bay since joining the conference for the 2008 season. In their last year in the Bay, the Vikings are a favorite to win the conference title along with West De Pere, which features Illinois recruit Brendan Meissner as its ace.
Although expectations are high, Denmark knows a deep pitching staff alone doesn’t guarantee a conference title or deep postseason run.
“Having four (pitchers) is great for the duration of a season,” Miller said. “But when it comes to any one particular game, we can only put one on the mound at a time.
“They’re hungry to get further in the playoffs than they did last year. But it’s going to take a lot of hard work. Nothing is going to be given to them.”