HOSCHTON — In a postseason full of tight, low-scoring wins, the magic finally ran out for Mill Creek’s baseball team in the Class AAAAAAA state semifinals.
The Hawks already had wins by scores of 4-3, 3-2, 1-0 and 2-0 en route to the Final Four, but could not replicate it against the Etowah Eagles.
Etowah won a marathon first game 3-2 in 12 innings and overcame an early 2-0 deficit to win 4-2 in the nightcap and close out the series. The Eagles will face rival Woodstock in the state championship series, a rematch of the 2017 finals.
A series of little plays added up to spell the end of the season for Mill Creek throughout the two games. An error on the first batter of the game led to two unearned runs when Jordan Fricks took advantage of the extra opportunity to hit a two-run home run with two outs in the inning.
In the top of the 12th inning of Game 1, a throwing error on a potential double play ball extended the inning long enough for Etowah to push across the game-winning run. And in Game 2, a stolen base led to a Reece Wehr RBI single that gave Etowah a lead it never relinquished.
“You’ve just got to play clean,” Mill Creek head coach Doug Jones said. “We made a couple mistakes in both ball games. They gave it all they had — they should have no regrets when they get up in the morning and look in the mirror.”
Mill Creek starting pitcher Sahil Patel settled in well after allowing the early home run, keeping his team in the game with six strong innings of two-run baseball. But sophomore Dimitri Angelakos was equally tough on the other side, only allowing one hit in the first three innings. The home team scratched one run across against him on a Chandler Klein RBI single in the fourth, but still went into the sixth inning trailing 2-1.
This time it was an Etowah defensive mistake that led to a run. Mill Creek’s Matthew Simay hit a slow chopper to third base with the tying run on second base, and a hurried throw to first base trickled down the right field line far enough for Cole Mullins to come all the way around and tie the contest.
From there, it was a relief battle between Angelakos and eventually Isaac Griffin for Etowah against Mill Creek’s Ryan Thomas.
Angelakos worked around a single and a stolen base in the bottom of the seventh to push the game to extras, only for Thomas to hit back with a clean eighth. Angelakos finished his day with 125 pitches after getting Etowah out of the eighth inning and turning the ball over to Griffin. Both teams put runners in scoring position in the 10th and 11th innings, but Thomas and Griffin matched each other clutch pitch for clutch pitch to extend Game 1.
When it was all said and done, Thoams struck out seven batters in six relief innings, and Griffin only surrendered one hit in four shutout innings.
The dam finally broke with two outs in the top of the 12th inning when Etowah catcher Haiden Schultz singled home Jackson Chirello from third, who had advanced to third base after a lead-off single and a botched double play attempt.
All three Etowah runs in Game 1 were unearned, but it was enough to secure a nail-biting victory.
Game 2 started with Mill Creek taking a 2-0 lead against Caleb Hughes courtesy of a Daniel Pierce RBI double and a wild pitch, but it was more of the same from there. Hughes ended up going the distance in a 114-pitch, two-run, five-hit masterpiece that kept Mill Creek hitters off balance all day.
“They filled the strike zone up,” Jones said about Etowah. “They had dangerous hitters, and they played the game well.”
Chirello’s two-run home run in the third inning brought the Eagles back on even terms, and two more runs in the fourth inning on RBI hits from Wehr and Davis Newman made it 4-2, where the score stood for the rest of the evening.
The Hawks could only muster up two hits after falling behind in the fourth inning, marking the end of a season that had brought it a region championship and its first trip to the state semifinals since 2018.
“I love them,” Jones said about his team. “I’m awfully proud of them. If we had thought in January when we got together that this is where it would end, I think we all would’ve taken it. But they’re heartbroken. They spilled their guts for each other, for their school and for their community. I could not be any more proud of them.”