SUWANEE — Just how much respect does Mill Creek baseball coach Doug Jones have for North Gwinnett’s ability to come back from a big deficit?
“They are scary as all get out,” Jones said shortly after his team’s Region 6-AAAAAAA game with the Bulldogs. “I probably did something (Thursday) night I haven’t done in a long time — try to squeeze bunt with an eight-run lead fully knowing we didn’t have enough runs. A lot of people might take that as (disrespect), but it’s the ultimate compliment.”
The squeeze bunt didn’t work out so well, winding up as pop up double play, but the Hawks put together plenty of add-on runs when they needed to, pulling away for a 14-7 win at McDaniel Field.
Mill Creek (17-10, 10-5) pounded out 16 hits on the evening, with seven different players recording multiple hits, lead by Tim Simay, who finished the day 3-for-4 with a double, an RBI and two runs scored.
Brandon York (2-for-3, HR, 2B, 2 RBIs) and Alek Boychuk (2-for-5, HR, 4 RBIs) also had a big night as the Hawks pulled to within a half-game of idle Mountain View for second place in the region.
But while Mill Creek scored in every inning except for the second, that didn’t make Jones feel any more secure, even after his team built an 8-0 lead on an first-inning RBI single by Simay, a two run-single from Boychuk in the third, a passed ball and an RBI double by York in the fourth and a two-run double by James Schmidt and an RBI triple by Jacob Allen in the fifth.
Even with Kyle Sterwarf keeping North (22-5, 13-2) at bay through the first four innings, the Bulldogs began to show why Jones was so concerned when the left-hander began to show signs of fatigue in the bottom of the fifth, as an error opened the door for Michael Borah’s two-run single that cut the Mill Creek to 8-2.
The Hawks answered with a key run on Keaton Anthony’s RBI single in the in the top of the sixth the extend their lead to a seemingly more comfortable 9-2, only to have North rally again in the bottom of the inning.
A lead off single by Will Bennett, a walk to Josh Shuler, two wild pitches and an error on Jayden Perrine’s deep drive to center field brought home one run.
And the Bulldogs struck for two more on Parker Waggoner’s sacrifice fly and a run-scoring single by Jarrett Burney to cut the Mill Creek lead to 9-5 with one out, which drove Stewarf from the game.
A nifty play by Drew Cardena on the short hop on a bouncer to third helped reliever Davis Day record the second out, but Borah came up with his scored hit and third RBI of the day to pull North to within 9-6, and a walk to Brian Leimkeuhler brought the tying run to the plate in the form of the dangerous Corey Collins.
But the sidewinding right-hander got the Bulldogs’ catcher to pop out to short to end the threat, and the Hawks took advantage when looking for more insurance runs in the top of the seventh.
After Jones’ squeeze attempt failed an inning early, the veteran coach rolled the dice again with runners on the corners and one out by sending the runner at first.
Though Collins gunned down pinch runner Carson Renz at second, Allen scampered home on the back end of the play to push the Mill Creek lead to 10-6.
That’s when the Hawks really began to flex their muscles, with three of the next four hitters — pinch-hitter Garner McKeon, York and Boychuk — hitting home runs, with Simay’s walk sandwiched in between.
When the smoke cleared, Mill Creek had five more runs and had pushed its lead back to eight at 14-6, a welcome sight for a team that had managed three runs or less in four of its last five game, including three combined in a pair of losses to North earlier in the week.
“It’s not a secret we’ve struggled swinging the bats (recently),” Jones said. “We got going a little bit (in the seventh inning). … It’s baseball. Slumps are contagious. Hitting streaks are contagious. I’m just glad we were able to get back off the deck. I’m proud of the kids for that.”
Anthony, Schimidt and Blaze McCauley each added two hits for Mill Creek, with Schmidt driving in a pair of runs, while Sterwarf scattered six hits and three earned runs with two strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings to get the win on the mound.
North, which can still wrap up the region’s top state playoff seed with either a win in any of its three remaining games against Duluth next week, got a 2-for-3 night with three RBIs from Borah, as well as two hits and an RBI from Waggoner and a hit and two RBIs from Burney.