That’s why the Eagles aren’t taking anything for granted today as they host King’s Ridge Christian in a 2 p.m. doubleheader to begin a best-of-three series for the Class A private-school state championship.
Mount Paran made last year’s state final, but it was swept by Eagle’s Landing Christian. As difficult as it was to get to last year’s final, the Eagles once again navigated through a grueling schedule of regular-season and postseason games to earn a title shot.
“It’s been a long, hard road because they’ve all been going hard and giving everything they can all the time,” Mount Paran coach Kyle Reese said. “It’s a grind, but they grind it out, and the reward is that we’re back trying to make up for what we didn’t take care of last year.
“All the guys talk about is winning state. It didn’t matter to them who they had to play to get it. When you get this far, all of the teams are good. It’s about being prepared and finishing the goal we set for the year.”
Second-seeded Mount Paran (29-3) concluded the regular season with its third consecutive Region 6A title. The Eagles are very familiar with subregion rival King’s Ridge (26-4), the fifth seed of the state tournament. Mount Paran swept the teams’ regular-season series, 6-0 and 9-1.
“We’ve seen them twice and beaten them both times, so that helps,” Reese said. “It helps any time you can have an idea of what’s in front of you. The last two teams we played, we didn’t have that visual, so the first game was close and we pulled away in the second game.”
Preparation should come a lot easier this year. Mount Paran was on the road for last year’s finals, but this time it’s the host.
“It’s huge being home,” Reese said. “I know King’s Ridge travels well, but I believe the numbers will be on our side. Any time you feel the crowd’s energy behind you, it can give you a boost. That encouragement helps.”
Both teams will also find encouragement in sending their seniors out on a high note as each school will celebrate graduations in the morning. King’s Ridge will be making the 45-minute trip from its Alpharetta campus after the commencement proceedings.
“We have six seniors graduating — Jordan Busby, Landon Faulkner, Jake Palomaki, Jake Landen, Andrew Maxwell and Travis Isenberg,” Reese said. “They’re going to walk. We’re both small schools, so commencement should end at 10:30, and both teams will be ready to go by first pitch.”
Historically, Mount Paran hasn’t had a lot of state-championship success on a team level. The competition cheerleading team is the only program to win a state title, accomplishing the feat the past two seasons. The baseball team is making its third state finals appearance, with runner-up finishes in 2005 and 2013.
“It would be huge for us to win for Mount Paran,” Reese said. “A lot of the kids on the team started here. This is their school, and it’s all they’ve known. It’s a tight community, and it would be huge for us win.”
Reese said throwing strikes and playing good defense will be the keys for Mount Paran to win the series.
“When we do that, we’re tough to beat,” he said.
“Everybody’s been consistent. If we can have two games like we’ve had in our other series, then we’ll be OK.”
Should the series stretch into a third game Monday, Reese is still confident about what the Eagles can do.
“We’re deep enough for a three-game series, with enough adrenaline to go the distance,” he said.