The Mill Creek girls are the first Gwinnett County Public Schools program to play for a lacrosse title.
The Hawks' reward? A date Saturday with the Milton juggernaut.
Milton has won 12 of the 14 girls lacrosse finals contested in the state's highest classification, going back to the first one in 2005. Only Chattahoochee in 2009 and Walton in 2016 have sidetracked the dynastic run.
The Eagles (21-1) obliterated North Paulding 21-1 in their semifinal and haven't given up more than eight goals in a game to any in-state opponent this season. Their lone loss was 17-7 to Georgetown Visitation Prep of Washington D.C. on April 4.
“This year's (Milton) team is as good as any of the others,” Mill Creek head coach Brian Williamson said. “They have Division I- and Division II(-bound) players all over the field.
“The thing about them is they're very good on defense and the offense is so explosive. They're good on both ends and amazing on draws. But I believe if we can win the draw, we can create opportunities.”
The teams met in a scrimmage at the start of the season. Williamson liked a number of the things the Hawks did in the game, but they are a different team now. On one hand, they've had to overcome the loss of Amyah Jackson, who ran draws, to an ACL injury. On the other hand, they've come through the season-long gauntlet as one of the last two teams standing.
“We've made a lot of adjustments,” Williamson said. “We have to find ways to win the draw and move the ball where we want.
“We have to play perfect. We have to be efficient and very smart.”
Getting to the finals was a hurdle itself. Mill Creek had been in the semifinals twice before and took the next step Wednesday against West Forsyth. The Hawks came back from a three-goal deficit in the second half and, even more impressively, held onto a one-goal lead for the last 12 minutes of the game.
“It takes some time to sink in,” Williamson said of the win. “We took the lead 11-9 with 13 ½ minutes left. We had serious discussions about if we can hold the ball that long. We decided it was too long. Then they won the draw and scored almost immediately. They won the draw again and our goalie made two just incredible saves.”
Mill Creek (17-5-1) got control of the ball and zipped down the field.
“I called timeout and we just decided to do it,” Williamson said.
The Hawks had barely been able to stall its own defense for more than two minutes in practices this season.
“It really was amazing,” Williamson said. “No subs, no timeouts. Fortunately for us we have seven seniors and five of them were out there. They did it beautifully, but that 8:45 left like an hour.”
“I'm sure it was awful to watch,” he said with a chuckle. “But we felt like whoever had the ball last was going to win.”
The historic win was the ninth straight for Mill Creek, which can draw on that and a number of other positive outcomes from earlier in the year.
“In the last six weeks, we've won four or five games by one goal,” Williamson said. “We beat Blessed Trinity with nine seconds left. We were down 10-2 to Walton in the first half and tied 12-12. It's an overlooked game because people say 'tie,' but it was an impressive comeback for us. It really prepared us for (Wednesday) night.
“No matter how much we're up or down, they never quit. If it's a tight game, I feel good. We don't have a problem being down two or three goals. But until we get there, we won't know.”
The raucous atmosphere in the semifinals fueled the Hawks and they are expecting more of the same in the Class 6A-7A finals at Kennesaw State University on Saturday.
“In lacrosse, at the average game, there's not a lot of fans and you can hear everything that gets said,” Williamson said. “It was so crowded (Wednesday), I had a hard time even communicating with the players — in a good way.
“I like the big moment. I think our kids play well in that situation.”