After failing to make playoffs last season, and watching McEachern win the 2013 Region 4AAAAAA championship on the Mustangs’ home soil, Kennesaw Mountain responded in a big way during the 2014 campaign.
The Mustangs bounced back to not only make the playoffs, but they returned the favor the Indians bestowed by claiming the 2014 Region 4AAAAAA title on the Indians’ home turf. The region championship was the first for Kennesaw Mountain since winning three straight from 2005-07.
“The whole highlight from this season was winning the region championship,” Kennesaw Mountain coach George Hansen said. “To be able to do that in our region is saying something just because of the grind you’re up against every single day that you play somebody.
“And returning the favor to McEachern was fun. They won the region championship on our field last year and for us to go over there and win it against Dan’s very, very good McEachern team, was a tremendous highlight. Winning at McEachern is an incredibly difficult things to do.”
The Mustangs extended their season into the quarterfinals of the Class AAAAAA state playoffs with sweeps over Alcovy and Tift County. Although Kennesaw Mountain lost to eventual state runner-up Milton in the elite eight, the team got by knowing it had made its deepest postseason run and had won the most games in a season, going 24-8, since reaching the state finals in 2007.
“Sometimes you have teams where you get kids who struggle to work hard,” Hansen said. “One of the things I really enjoyed about this season was that this team was very easy to work with. This team knew what they needed to do. They knew what their jobs were. There was a lot of good leadership. There was steady effort really from beginning to end. We really didn’t have a lot of ups and downs and it was really just a steady flow from beginning to end.”
With his team’s overall success, Hansen collected his 300th career victory this season and was also named the 2014 Marietta Daily Journal/Cobb County Baseball Coach of the Year.
“I was excited (to be named coach of the year),” Hansen said. “This is a county that’s filled with great coaches from top to bottom with excellent pedigrees and people that have national titles and region championships and everything like that. To be included in that group is quite an honor.”
Hansen delicately juggled a deft pitching unit that included aces Chase Slone, Zack Chandler, Zach Goodman and Ryley Gilliam — also known as “The Four Horsemen” — and managed a batting order that got better over time.
Led by seniors Alex Darwiche, Slone, Chandler, Ben Sparks and Alex Nedvidek, the Mustangs won 10 straight games leading into the state playoffs, Kennesaw Mountain posted a team batting average of .278 and a 1.187 team earned-run average.
“Everybody knows our pitching this year was excellent,” Hansen said. “Our offensive production really improved as the season improved. Early on, we struggled scoring runs quite a bit and then as the weather heated up, our bats heated up. Over our last 14 games we hit over .300, so that was really the big key for us, swinging the bats a little bit better at the end of the season.”
Kennesaw Mountain’s margin for error to win the region title was slim. The Mustangs finished 13-3 in league play and won the title in the second-to-last game of the regular season. In a game against Harrison in early April, the only thing on Hansen’s mind was getting the victory.
“Getting that 300th win was a proud moment,” he said. “I had actually forgotten about it because we were playing Harrison at Harrison. What number it was was the furthest thing from my mind.
“But the first thing that the kids did after the last pitch was thrown was that they all stuck three fingers up in the air. That was pretty cool, because I had no idea what they were doing. Then it hit me. For them to be cognizant that that was my 300th win was a pretty cool moment.”
Although Kennesaw Mountain fell short of its ultimate state championship goal, Hansen’s excited to know the door isn’t completely closed for next season.
“With pretty much our entire starting lineup coming back intact, I’m looking forward to next year,” he said. “We have some options at pitching to fill in some sizable gaps from kids that graduated, and barring injury, it’s nice to know going into next year that we should be able to make a good run at it. It’s exciting to know that we could have that kind of year coming up.”