The Eagles played near flawless defense, got solid hitting from up-and-down their lineup and watched their pitching staff give up one run over 14 innings in sweeping host George Walton Academy in their Class A private school state playoff semifinal series on Monday.
Mount Paran won the first game 8-1 and shutdown the Bulldogs 5-0 in Game 2. The sweep moved the Eagles into the state championship finals for the first time since 2005 where they will play either Eagles Landing Christian or Darlington. ELCA and Darlington split their two games Monday. ELCA won Game 1, 8-3, and Darlington came back to win Game 2, 10-9.
Game 3 will be played today. If ELCA wins, Mount Paran will travel for the championship series. If Darlington wins, the Eagles will host their Region 6A foe. The first two games of the best-of-three championship series will be Saturday, with Game 3, if necessary, slated for Monday.
“This series was huge,” Mount Paran coach Kyle Reese said. “We saw their No. 1 and No. 2 pitchers and took the best that they could give us. To get a sweep gives our guys an extra day of rest and confidence going into Saturday.
“The one run (George Walton) got in the first game was unearned. Our guys turned some huge defensive plays and we strung together some great at-bats in the series with some clutch two-out hits. We put the pressure on their pitchers and nobody took pitches off. It was a great team effort.”
Mount Paran turned two double plays and collected a home run in each game to help starting pitchers Jordan VerSteeg and Colton Cannon.
VerSteeg gave up five hits and struck out six in a complete game shutout of the Bulldogs in the nightcap. Cannon’s unearned run occurred over six innings of work. He gave up six hits, struck out three and walked five in Game 1.
Mount Paran couldn’t have asked for a better result in the first game. The Eagles pounded out 12 hits, including a sixth inning home run from Tyler Flowers.
The Eagles trailed 1-0 after three, but rallied for five runs in the fifth and three more in the sixth to take a commanding lead.
George Walton’s Hunter Rice led off the third with a single and scored on a two-out error.
Mount Paran didn’t have an extra-base hit until the fifth. Flowers led off with a double and moved to third on a fielding error that allowed Isaac Phillips to reach first.
Landon Faulkner’s outfield single plated Flowers and Jake Palomaki walked to load the bases, chasing George Walton starter Trey Lang from the mound.
Reliever Cade Sorrells gave up a two-run single to Taylor Trammel, and Ryan Murphy’s one-out single allowed Faulkner and Palomaki to score, giving Mount Paran a 5-1 advantage.
Cannon stranded Bulldog runners on first and third in the bottom of the fifth before Flowers’ homer opened the sixth. Phillips followed with a double, stole third and scored on Palomaki’s double for a 7-1 margin.
Evan Alderman gave up consecutive walks to Taylor Trammel and Matt McKenzie to load the bases, and reliever Blake Biggers issued a RBI walk to Murphy for the final run of the game.
Relief pitcher Kyle Trammel forced Tyler Jarvis to hit into a game-ending double-play in the bottom of the seventh to end the contest.
Taylor Trammel was 2-for-3 with two RBI, while Murphy batted 3-for-3 with three RBI. Palomaki was 2-for-3 with a RBI and two runs scored. Flowers had a double and a home run in four at-bats. Faulkner also had a RBI.
Mount Paran took the early lead in the nightcap when Murphy walked to begin the second inning, moved to second on a passed ball and scored on Will Schnure’s double.
Phillips walked to start the fifth, stole second, moved to third on a ground out and scored on Palomaki’s single.
Keith Johnson and Flowers drew consecutive two-out walks in the sixth before Phillips jacked a home run over the left field wall for the 5-0 margin.
“We wanted to keep their hitters off balance,” VerSteeg said of the approach he and Cannon took with George Walton’s batters.
“I feel like we’re peaking at the right time as a team and playing our best. The credit goes to my teammates because without them we wouldn’t be here.”
VerSteeg was excited about the opportunity to play for a title.
“I’ve been waiting for four years to play for a state championship, and it feels great to be in this position. We’re finally here, but we know that there’s still work to do.”