CUMMING – For the Mill Creek girls lacrosse team, the third time truly was the charm.
After going 0-2 in their previous appearances in the Final Four, the Hawks finally got past that stumbling block Wednesday night. They overcame a three-goal deficit in the second half, hung on and edged West Forsyth 11-10 in the semifinals of the Class AAAAAAA/AAAAAA state playoffs.
The historic win was the ninth in a row for Mill Creek (17-5-1) and sets up a date in the finals Saturday against Milton at Kennesaw State University.
“We’ve broken the curse,” said Mill Creek senior Lyndsey Lewis, who led the Hawks with four goals. “We finally got past the Final Four and are going to state. I told the team that if we play like we did last Thursday, we’ve got this in the bag and we came out and played like a team.”
After an even first half that saw the two teams battle to a 5-5 tie, West Forsyth came out fast and hard in the second half to take control with three straight goals.
Those goals came in the span of just over 90 seconds, with the first of those coming from Kate Pulliam with 21:54 left.
Cami Merkel, who led West Forsyth with four goals and two assists, scored again just over 30 seconds later and assisted Mikaela Barbieri with 20:12 remaining to go up 8-5.
Madison Park (goal, assist) helped Mill Creek get back on its feet with an assist to Lewis to cut the score to 8-6, while scoring with 17:59 to play to get within one at 8-7.
Merkel answered for the Wolverines (13-7-2) at the 16:49 mark to rebuild the lead to 9-7, but that lead was short lived as the Hawks went on a 4-0 run to regain control at 11-9.
Those four goals came during a span of 2:07, with the first of those coming from Lewis on a shot that barely rolled over the line when West Forsyth keeper Emma Sindersine nearly stopped it.
Sarah Fanczi (three goals, assist) tied it a 9-9 with 13:50 to go, while Sara Grieco (two goals, assist) put in a wrap-around goal just 35 seconds later to give the Hawks their first lead since late in the first half.
The lead was extended to 11-9 with Lewis’ fourth of the night at the 12:12 mark, but the Wolverines fought back with Jenna Burrow’s third goal of the night.
The turning point came at the 8:35 mark when Mill Creek called timeout, nursing the one-goal lead. When play resumed, the Hawks played an epic game of keep away, spreading the field and slowing down their pace to prevent the Wolverines from getting possession.
“I got real nervous when we went down by three but we showed a lot of heart,” Mill Creek head coach Brian Williamson said. “We debated a lot about whether or not we should try (playing keep away) or not. We thought about going to it with 13 minutes left when we were up two. But that’s a long time and we didn’t do it and almost regretted it because they scored again. We had a couple of great saves with around nine left and decided to see if we could hold it and take this game.”
The tactic worked, but not without several nervous moments. The biggest of those came with just over five minutes left when an errant pass rolled out of bounds to give the ball back to West Forsyth.
The Wolverine possession didn't last long as the inbounds pass bounced off the stick of a Mill Creek defender with the ground ball being picked up by the Hawks.
From that point, West Forsyth was never able to get close to regaining possession. When the final seconds finally ticked away, Mill Creek broke into a frenzied celebration.
“I cannot believe we did that,” Grieco said of the final eight minutes. “We do this drill in practice for two minutes and we can’t even do that. Coach told us we had to stall the rest of the way and to just run and get open.”
Keeper Juliana Pleck also did her part by recording eight saves, with her biggest coming at 8:53 to give Mill Creek what was essentially the last possession of the game.
Up next for the Hawks is Milton, which reached the finals by defeating North Paulding.