By Doug Gorman
Twenty years ago the Forest Park Panthers baseball team won a state championship.
There hasn't been too much for the Panthers to celebrate on the baseball diamond since that magical state championship run two decades ago.
All that could change starting tonight as the Panthers return to the state playoffs as the No. 1-seed out of Region 5-AAAA.
Forest Park opens the best-of-three series at home against East Paulding starting with a doubleheader beginning at 4:30 p.m. The if game would be played Saturday.
The Panthers enter the game with a 17-6 record overall and a 14-2 mark in region play. Forest Park can attribute its success to first-year head coach Michael Breedlove, who took over right before the Panthers began practicing for the upcoming season.
Even though Breedlove became the school's third baseball coach in as many years, the Panthers have bought into the new coach's philosophy.
"We had to get to know each other," he said. "But they have bought into what we have tried to do, and it's been a successful year."
The Panthers have enjoyed their success despite having just four seniors in the lineup.
"We are young, but everybody has worked hard. Our seniors have done a great job. They are quiet leaders," Breedlove said.
Forest Park started the year with two losses in its first three games, but it was one of the loses that let Breedlove know his team was going to be competitive.
"I knew good things were going to happen after our loss to Etowah. Even though we lost 10-3, we never gave up. We were down 10-0 in the game, but kept battling back," he said.
At one stretch during the middle of the season, Forest Park won 5 of 6 games. In April, the Panthers put together their biggest winning streak of the year as the Panthers rolled off six straight victories.
Its biggest win during the stretch was the 4-3 extra-innings victory against Jonesboro.
That win helped the Panthers take over first place in the region and also moved them into the state rankings.
"Beating Jonesboro was great," said senior Tyrone Peaks. "All we hear about is Jonesboro in this county. When we beat them, people sat up and started taking notice that we are good too."
Baseball players at Forest Park have become heroes to their fellow classmates. Forest Park has been hit with some tragedy this year with the shooting death of freshman Krystal Williams, and the team's success has helped generate some positive news.
"It's nice to see good things happening for a change at the high school," said senior pitcher Tyrone Standford.
There will be a familiar face in the East Paulding dugout. The Raiders are coached by former Morrow coach Ronnie Green.
The Panthers are 17-8 overall and 8-4 in Region 7-AAA.
"They are going to be well coached, and a fundamentally sound baseball team," said Breedlove. "It could be a competitive series."