“They didn’t even know who we were,” Freeman said.
It might have taken four months, but Marist certainly knows who River Ridge is now. The teams will play for the Class AAAA state title Saturday at the Clayton County International Park in Jonesboro.
River Ridge got to this point by sweeping past Spalding in just 45 minutes in Tuesday’s semifinal. Now, the Knights (19-3) must find a way to get past Marist (16-6), a private-school powerhouse that has won 13 state championships.
No River Ridge team, in any sport, has ever played for a state title.
“This is really big,” Freeman said. “Marist is going to be really tough, but this is just big for us.”
River Ridge has faced a few challenging opponents this season. Freeman looked up to programs in Class AAAAAA, such as Etowah, in order to get her players the experience she thought they would need in the playoffs. So far, the plan has worked.
River Ridge swept through the Region 7AAAA tournament without losing a point, then did the same against Shaw and Chamblee in the first two rounds of the state playoffs. In the quarterfinals against Carrollton, the Knights were pushed to the edge of elimination before No. 1 singles player Ben VanHout rallied for the decisive win.
Against Spalding, River Ridge won easily, 3-0. No. 2 singles player Clay McIntyre won 6-2, 6-0, as did No. 3 singles Jake Hicks by a 6-1, 6-1 margin. The third point came from the No. 2 doubles team of Gabe Mims and Matt Polly (6-2, 6-1).
Freeman knows it will be a different story with Marist.
“They win state titles for a reason,” Freeman said. “I don’t know that anyone has an advantage, but if (Marist) does, it is that they are used to playing for state titles. This is completely new for us.”
River Ridge’s advantage could be simply that no one — other than Freeman — expected the team to compete for a state title. Freeman thought back to the beginning of the season when Marist wasn’t even willing to schedule a match because of the Knights’ relative anonymity.
No matter how Marist approaches Saturday’s match, Freeman plans to have her players ready.
“We might do a few things, because they are going to be tough to beat,” Freeman said. “We might do a little tinkering. We only have three days to get ourselves ready.”
One thing Freeman would like to see Saturday, but can’t do on her own, is get River Ridge fans to the match in Jonesboro. When the Knights played at Carrollton, which she said had more than 100 fans on site, Freeman could easily count the number of River Ridge supporters in the crowd.
“We had six parents and our players,” Freeman said. “They had a big group cheering, and it would be nice for us to have that at (the finals).”