Unfortunately for the Eagles, none of those attributes were on display Saturday as they were swept by King’s Ridge Christian, 10-3 and 7-2, in the best-of-three series.
Mount Paran (29-5) had won its two regular-season meetings with Region 6A rival King’s Ridge (28-4), but the Tigers won the games that mattered most, jumping on top 8-1 in the second inning of Game 1 and using a four-run fourth inning in the nightcap to take a 5-2 advantage.
King’s Ridge had five home runs and 19 hits in the series, compared to two homers and nine hits for Mount Paran. King’s Ridge starters Adam Moore and Austin Higginbotham both threw complete games, while Mount Paran’s Landon Faulkner and Andrew Maxwell couldn’t keep runs off the board and didn’t always get the help they needed defensively.
“(King’s Ridge) pitched us tough, and when we had opportunities to help ourselves, we didn’t deliver, like we had in the other 29 times,” Mount Paran coach Kyle Reese said. “We didn’t make the plays we needed to make, and we helped extend innings for King’s Ridge.
“We missed some pitches and got hurt by them. That didn’t happen before, the first time we played them. Give those guys some credit. They made some great plays in the field, and with their bats, and they pitched a great game. We just didn’t do enough to stay with them.”
Connor Burns went 3-for-3 with three home runs, a walk and six RBI to pace the Tigers’ offensive effort in Game 1. The Wake Forest signee hit a two-run shot in the first inning, added a three-run homer in the second and hit a solo shot in the fourth.
Brandt Stallings also belted a two-run home run as part of King’s Ridge’s six-run second inning. The Tigers scored all six second-inning runs with two outs.
“That definitely hurt us,” Reese said. “You can’t give a good team that many opportunities.”
Slade Osborne, who was 2-for-4, scored on a wild pitch in the inning.
Mount Paran entered the second trailing 2-1 after Jack Rowan’s groundout plated Jake Palomaki.
Grayson Byrd’s sacrifice fly in the third helped King’s Ridge take a 9-1 advantage, and Burns’ final homer put the Tigers up 10-1 through four.
Moore, who allowed three runs — one earned — on four hits, gave up the first of his four hits to Isaac Phillips in the fourth. Phillips moved to second on an error, stole third and scored on Rowan’s sacrifice fly.
Mount Paran scored its final run in the seventh as Matt Norton reached on an error and scored on Graham True’s RBI single.
Faulkner fell into trouble early and finished the game with eight runs — seven earned — on five hits in 1 2/3 innings. Reliever Jake Allen gave up two earned runs on five hits in 5 1/3.
King’s Ridge took a 1-0 lead early in the nightcap behind Kyle Brnovich’s two-out RBI single in the third.
Back-to-back solo home runs from Reed Massey and Faulkner gave Mount Paran its first lead in the series.
However, three walks, two errors and two singles led to a four-run fourth inning for King’s Ridge. Burns was once again the catalyst, clearing the bases off a two-out single and two-base error to put the Tigers ahead 5-2.
Byrd, an LSU signee who was 3-for-4 with three runs scored, belted a two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth for the 7-2 lead, and Higginbotham, who gave up two earned runs on five hits and struck out seven, retired the side in the seventh.
Maxwell allowed six runs — five earned — off eight hits in five innings for Mount Paran. Palomaki gave up one run on two hits in one inning of relief.
Mount Paran finished as the state runner-up for the second year in a row, and the third time since 2005.
“You want to be in this game and give yourself a chance,” Reese said. “When you play, you obviously want to win it. We don’t settle for second place, but if you told me we have a chance to be here again next year, we’ll take it.
“This is a great group of guys. We had 10 guys graduate last year and it was great to see the guys who moved up work in so well with the veteran guys. They all took care of one another.”