Kennesaw Mountain baseball coach George Hansen earned the 400th win of his career Thursday.
It happened in one of the best ways possible.
Leading McEachern 3-2 in the seventh inning, Mustangs reliever Ryne Oria was on the mound with the bases loaded. Oria induced a grounder to the right side, covered the base and took the throw, securing the final out.
Oria is the son of Kennesaw Mountain assistant coach Rich Oria, who has been Hansen's assistant every step of the way, even before they came to launch the Mustangs' program from scratch in 2001.
The coaches have been together for more than two decades, but neither thought about Thursday night's game marking a milestone win.
“It was the last thing I was thinking about,” said Hansen, who is now at 401 following the Mustangs added another win Friday at McEachern. “To me, quite honestly, I was happy we won a region ball game.”
Hansen, a Georgia Dugout Club Hall of Famer, has coached baseball in Cobb County for 27 years, including 22 as a head coach. After spending five years under mentor Harvey Cochran at North Cobb, his alma mater, he began his head-coaching career with the first 30 win of his career at Pebblebrook and was paired with Oria, with whom he would eventually become career-long partner.
“There are two ways to describe Oria,” Hansen said. “Totally passionate about wanting to win, and loyal to an extreme. He’s the most loyal coach I’ve ever met. He’s definitely the type of person you want to have on your side.”
Oria started by coaching the junior varsity team at Pebblebrook, and once the duo moved to Kennesaw Mountain, he became Hansen's assistant on the varsity team.
“He hasn’t changed,” Oria said. “He’s stable. He treats the kids like family.”
As a coach, Hansen said he prides himself on having 17 winning seasons out of the 19 at Kennesaw Mountain. Each play, each win and each spring built up to the 400th win, so the fact that Ryne Oria was able to get the save seemed like destiny.
“There’s a bit of irony,” Rich Oria said. “When we started, (Ryne) wasn’t even born. For it to come full circle, it really made me happy.”
Time and time again, former players return to visit Hansen. Whether it’s to use the facility, hang around with the team or to simply give Hansen an update on life, those actions only take place when a person earns the efforts.
“He leaves a mark on them enough to make them want to come back and share their lives,” Oria said. “They come back year after year. Watching them grow into young men, I think it’s great for our program.”
While the milestone is significant, Hansen said it may not have felt as sweet without all the cultivated relationships that have come with the success.
“Tim Crunk, he’s iconic in Cobb County,” Hansen said about the former assistant coach and later Kennesaw Mountain athletic director, who died of a heart attack 2012. “We owe so much to him. He was with us from the beginning and he helped build the program.”
Hansen said people gravitate toward the environment he keeps. The bigger the moment, the more he tries to keep his players loose. He said he avoids making the game bigger than it has to be.
“Most of my kids just want to wear the uniform for another day, and you have to keep winning to do that,” Hansen said. “The vast majority of kids come back because it feels like home. When you ask them their best baseball moment, they say 'in the green and black at Kennesaw Mountain High School.' That’s the best thing of all. I’m really proud of that.”