The potential to go further is there.
The Eagles have 10 seniors and eight returning starters on the 2013 roster, which has already compiled a 14-2 record, with an 8-2 mark in Region 6A’s southern half. They started the season by winning 10 straight games before losing to Gordon Lee and Darlington, but they’re now on a four-game winning streak.
Last year’s Mount Paran team did have a distraction in the late season. Coach Harvey Cochran was told in mid-April that his contract would not be renewed, with the school stating that it wanted “to go in a different direction.”
But there’s been nothing interfering with what the Eagles want to accomplish this season.
“The past two years, we’ve come up short,” senior infielder Ryan Murphy said. “As seniors, we realized it’s our last time to try to win it. That’s our motivation, to prove everyone wrong.”
With Kyle Reese taking over the program a year earlier than expected — Cochran had originally intended to retire after the 2013 season, with Reese succeeding him — Mount Paran went to work right after football season.
One of the first things Reese did as the new coach was organize a three-day-a-week conditioning program to get the players in shape, something Mount Paran hadn’t done in the past.
It seems to be paying off now.
“I think, above all, we’ve gotten in shape so we can play better at the end of the year,” Murphy said. “It’s also given us a mental toughness to get through just about anything.”
That mental toughness was put to the test in late March, when the Eagles traveled to Calhoun, Gordon Lee and Darlington over a three-day span. The road trip started well with a 7-5 win over Calhoun that kept Mount Paran undefeated, but it went downhill from there with a 3-2 loss to Gordon Lee and a 9-4 setback to Darlington.
The Eagles had their chances against Gordon Lee, but they left 11 runners on base. They also failed to score in one inning, despite loading the bases with no outs.
Darlington was the game everyone just wanted to forget.
“We had 10 good ballgames up until that point, and (Darlington) just wasn’t our day,” Reese said. “It was kind of a good test for a playoff situation. We could be playing three games in two days, possibly on the road.”
Mount Paran will have to face their subregion opponents once again when they get back from spring break, but the Eagles do have some things going for them, including pitching and a solid defense.
Seniors Robert Wilson and Colton Cannon have been steady on the mound. According to Reese, Wilson, who has a 1.43 ERA, is at his best when he’s in a jam, while Cannon has been fluent in getting outs on contact.
Junior Andrew Maxwell appears to be the most successful at the moment. His ERA is at 0.70, and he leads the team with four wins.
Defensively, Junior Jake Palomaki, who is also batting .562, has been reliable at shortstop, and Middle Tennessee State signee Will Schnure is solid behind the plate.
Mount Paran also has to continue being patient at the plate, with Matt McKenzie, Murphy and Keith Johnson in the heart of the lineup. Hitting balls out of the park may not be the Eagles’ biggest strength, but choosing the right pitches to hit in clutch situations is.