For the Wildcats, the game had the added effect of the school’s longtime coach — and its field’s namesake — in the opposing dugout.
Dave McDonald, in his second year as a community coach at Mount Paran after retiring from Wheeler, served as the Eagles’ acting coach. Harvey Cochran was sitting out the first of a two-game suspension after being ejected from Wednesday’s game against King’s Ride Christian
Tied at 2-all, Cannon hit a one-out ground-rule double to left-center and later scored on a two-out error to give the Eagles (5-1) the lead.
Robert Wilson, who came on in the top of the fifth in relief of starter Logan Haner, retired the side in the bottom of the sixth, and closer Jordan VerSteeg faced four batters in the seventh to earn the save and preserve the victory.
Wilson gave up one hit and walked three in two innings of work to get the win, while VerSteeg allowed one hit. Haner allowed two earned runs off four hits, had three hit batsmen and struck out three in four innings.
“All three of our pitchers (Saturday) were coming back from basketball season,” McDonald said. “The thought was to get their innings built up as much as we can to get them ready for region play, which starts next week.
“I thought they pitched well in spots. It’s early for those guys, but they need those innings to get their rhythm back.”
Mount Paran took a 1-0 lead in the first. Matt Mackenzie hit a one-out double and scored one batter later on Ryan Murphy’s groundout to second.
Wheeler (4-5) took a 2-1 lead in the fourth off Kevin Hawkins’ one-out, two-run home run, which also scored Kevin Anderson. Anderson singled to lead off the inning and Hawkins sat on a 2-2 count before ripping a shot over the center field fence to take the one-run lead.
Andrew Maxwell, who batted 2-for-2, led off the bottom of the fourth with a walk, moved to third on a groundout and a flyout and scored off an error to knot the contest at 2-all, ultimately leading to Cannon’s game-winning score.
McKenzie batted 2-for-3 with a double and a run scored, while Cannon was 1-for-2 with a double and scored a run.
Alan Peters was 2-for-3 with a stolen base for the Wildcats. Kyle Allen had a hit and a walk as did Anderson who also scored.
Keaton Tobin gave up three runs — two earned — on five hits in six innings pitched for Wheeler.
“I hate losing, but they have a good ballclub over here,” Wheeler coach Jeff Milton said.
The Wildcats had two opportunities to either tie or take the lead in the game. Hawkins, who went 2-for-3 with a home run, two RBIs and a scored run, was robbed of another home run by Mount Paran center fielder McKenzie. Leading off the sixth, Hawkins sent Wilson’s pitch into the outfield, but McKenzie snagged the fly ball out from over the fence to preserve the 3-2 advantage.
Wheeler also had an opportunity early on against Wilson, who gave up a hit and walked three of the first four batters he faced in the top of the fifth. However, with one out and the bases loaded, Adrian Morris hit a fly out to Keith Johnson in right field who rifled a shot to catcher Will Schnure to nab Peters at home for a double play.
Milton, who is in his second year at the helm of Wheeler, went out to argue the call at the plate and was summarily ejected from the game, resulting in a two-game suspension of his own. Walking away from the field, he described it as the “walk of shame.”
“As I left the ballpark and started walking up the hill, past the Mount Paran dugout, all I could think to myself was, ‘I’m never going to be able to live this down.’”
That’s because Milton, who is in his first head-coaching job, has a long history with some of the members of the Mount Paran coaching staff.
Milton played first base for Cochran and assistant coach Keith Palmer from 1996-2000 at North Cobb. He also served five seasons as an assistant under McDonald at Wheeler and practiced hitting at a facility owned by Mount Paran assistant Kyle Reese.
“I’m a second-year coach going up against guys who have over 1,000 wins,” Milton said, “but it was fun. I hate it for my early exit, and there was no coach Cochran out here either. Hopefully, though, we can do it again.”
The reunion of McDonald with his former team wasn’t arranged by the competitors. According to Milton, the game — part of the early-season Georgia Dugout Club tournament — was randomly selected based on the geographic areas of the schools.
“When the schedule came out, coach Cochran called me and said we’re playing the game at his place,” Milton said. “All I could say was, ‘Yes, sir!’ It was definitely a strange day. Seeing Mount Paran on the schedule way back when, I got a little nervous. All of those guys over there I either played for or coached with, so it was weird. There was a strange excitement and it was kind of surreal.”
The game had an effect on McDonald, too.
“I coached at Wheeler for 30 years and was only thrown out once,” he said, “and here, (Milton) is getting tossed already.”
It’s those moments that bind the kind of history among the Mount Paran Christian coaching staff.
“Coach Kenny Palmer and I have been together for 20 years, and Reese and Milton played for me, and I’ve known coach McDonald forever it seems,” said Cochran, who watched Saturday’s game from the press box. “It’s fun. I’ll be 65 in June, and it will still be fun.”