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Trending up: Paradise gains momentum after positive year

By Reece Waddell | Published Saturday, July 14, 2018
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Job Well Done

JOB WELL DONE – Paradise softball coach Karin Essig congratulates a player during a game in 2018. The Lady Panthers went 18-11 and qualified for the playoffs. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

After three first-round playoff exits in 2017-2018, confidence around the Paradise athletic program is building.

The girls basketball, baseball and softball teams qualified for the postseason, while the football team was one win shy of snapping an eight-year playoff drought. The girls cross country squad finished 10th at the 3A Region I meet and junior Maddie Mitschke advanced to state meet in the 300 hurdles.

Now that the Panthers have a taste of the postseason, they want – and expect more.

“We’ve been preaching it during our summer athletic training in the morning,” said Paradise athletic director Joe Koch. “Before they leave, we talk about our goals and what we’re really working for – getting into that mindset of being a winner and not settling for second-best. You can feel it starting to come along.”

Softball won its first six games to start District 8-3A play and contended for the league title for most of the season. Junior Kendall Candioto was named to the Texas Girls Coaches Association 3A all-state team, going 11-9 with a 2.87 ERA in the circle.

The Lady Panthers finished third in 8-3A after winning a three-way tiebreaker with Boyd and Bowie to end the regular season.

Eastland swept them in the bi-district round.

Football picked up a key win against Ponder late in the season, but dropped its final two games to Bowie and Boyd. They have not made the playoffs since 2009.

“Having that mindset you belong is a big part of it,” Koch said. “You have to be confident, and you can only gain that through hard work and working with your teammates. It’s definitely growing.”

ROAD TO RECOVERY – Paradise point guard Maddie Mitschke drives to the basket in a game against Boyd last season. Mitschke tore her ACL in June and will miss an undetermined amount of time next year. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

BEST TEAM: GIRLS BASKETBALL

Paradise made the playoffs for the sixth straight year, going 18-13 overall and 8-6 in league play. The Lady Panthers started district 5-1 and entered the postseason as the fourth seed.

For the second consecutive season, Paradise fell to Brock in the bi-district round. The Lady Eagles advanced all the way to the state semifinal.

“I thought they did a great job,” Koch said. “There is no quit in that team. The first hurdle is the mental approach that you can win. I think the girls have definitely cleared that hurdle, and that’s the biggest thing.”

Mitschke and fellow junior Kaycee Martin were named to the 8-3A first-team while senior Hunter Rogers earned second-team honors. Mitschke led the team in scoring and rebounds, averaging 12.9 points and 10.1 boards. She was the only girl in Wise County to average a double-double.

Paradise will be without Mitschke for an undetermined amount of time next season as the Lady Panthers’ point guard recovers from a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) suffered in a summer league game in June.

“It’s hard to replace one of your best players,” Koch said. “But on the other side of the coin, it’s going to force everyone else to step up their game. If she comes back by some point in district, the whole team is going to be that much better.”

BEST SURPRISE: BASEBALL

The Panthers finished fourth in District 8-3A and made the playoffs for the third straight season despite a lineup that featured a majority of underclassman.

Catcher Jace Essig was the 8-3A Defensive Player of the Year as a sophomore, committing just five errors behind the plate. Freshman Parker Cook earned Co-Newcomer of the Year honors and made an impressive start against Brock in the bi-district round of the playoffs. Cook surrendered just three runs to the No. 2 ranked Eagles in a 3-1 loss. He ended the year with a 3.30 ERA.

Sophomore Mikey Passariello tied a school record with 17 strikeouts in a win against Bowie and was an 8-3A first-team selection. Sophomore Mitchell Sellars also was selected to the first-team, batting .417 with a home run and 14 RBIs.

“They have [a lot of talent],” Koch said. “They’ve been to the playoffs the last three years. I think now they understand what’s at stake and that [just making the playoffs] isn’t good enough anymore. Not that I’m telling them that – that’s more of [an expectation] within themselves.”

COACHING CHANGES:

Paradise will have several new coaches on the sideline and bench in 2018-2019.

Koch is entering his first year as head football coach after taking over for Ronnie Gage in May.

Former baseball coach Nick Pike, who departed in June for the defensive coordinator position at Santo, was replaced by Jason McCoy. McCoy served as an assistant at Granbury last year and prior to that, spent seven years at Notre Dame in Wichita Falls. He took the Knights to the region finals in basketball and baseball.

Girls track coach Johna Ford retired after spending over two decades coaching. Ford graduated from Paradise in 1986 and ran on the track team when she was in school.

Rhea Mitschke, who already served as the assistant varsity girls basketball coach, will replace her.

PARADISE AT A GLANCE

Sport … ’16-17 record … ’17-18 record … Postseason

Football … 4-6 … 3-7 … Missed playoffs

Volleyball … 4-21 … 12-24-2 … Missed playoffs

Cross Country … Girls 10th in 3A Region I

Boys basketball … 7-17 … 4-24 … Missed playoffs

Girls basketball … 19-14 … 18-13 … Bi-district

Baseball … 14-14-1 … 10-15 … Bi-district

Softball … 18-12 … 18-11 … Bi-district

Track … Boys and Girls 4th in 4A

COACHING CHANGES

Sport … Previous Coach … New Coach

Football … Ronnie Gage … Joe Koch

Baseball … Nick Pike … Jason McCoy

Girls Track … Johna Ford … Rhea Mitschke

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