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Mill Creek's Lindsay Kline pitches in a game against Dawson County.

Each softball team is unique, and Paul Pierce has taken a variety of them to Columbus in his long coaching career at both Collins Hill and Mill Creek.

Some were state championship favorites. Others weren’t expected to make a serious title challenge. Many were somewhere in between.

Pierce’s current Hawks head to the Class AAAAAAA Elite Eight in Columbus as one of underdogs, something they have embraced ahead of Thursday's 8 p.m. opener against Milton. They finished fourth in Region 8-AAAAAAA this season with a 4-8 mark, but got going at the right time in the playoffs with a sweep of North Forsyth and a three-game series win over Grayson.

After going 13-12 in the regular season, Mill Creek is 5-1 in the state playoffs.

“They play hard,” Pierce said of his team. “You go through the year and you’ve got to have some breaks. You’ve got to have some luck. You’ve got to make some luck. You’ve got to take advantage of some opportunities. And you’ve got to make plays when your number’s called. It’s a process. You’ve got to stick to the process. You can’t get too up when you win and you can’t get too down when you get beat.”

North Forsyth entered the first-round series with a 27-3 record, but Mill Creek went on the road for 5-3 and 5-2 victories for a first-round shocker. After dropping Game 1 to Grayson 6-5, the Hawks fought off elimination for a 2-1 win in the nightcap of their second-round doubleheader. They came back the next day and defeated Grayson 6-4, clinching both their second straight series win on the road and a coveted trip to Columbus.

“I’m excited for the girls,” Pierce said. “We’ve battled through some things and we’ve peaked at the right time.”

A few seniors are in key roles — Abby Crowe at first base, Jasmine Sanchez in centerfield and Lael Ayala at designated player — but a considerable portion of the roster is made up of younger players. A large number of those players contribute, including a rotation of five pitchers — Megan Gable, Madison Pena, McKenzie Fitch, Lindsay Kline and Reagan Lonsberry. Among the non-seniors, junior Olivia Shaw has filled a key role.

“Olivia Shaw brings a lot to the table,” Pierce said. “I think she plays hard and sets a great example for us on the field. I think she kind of says, ‘If you play as hard as I do, we’ll be fine.’”

It will take more upsets for the Hawks to keep their surprising playoff run going this week. Among the final eight in AAAAAAA are defending state champion East Coweta (24-1) and last year’s state runner-up, North Gwinnett (27-5-1). North has three wins in region play over Mill Creek this year. Lambert (28-4), Cherokee (24-7), Colquitt County (25-3) and Milton (16-6) also bring impressive resumés to Columbus, putting the underdog status on Hillgrove (21-11) and Mill Creek (18-13), which is fine with the Hawks.

“You put a little chip on your shoulder and go play,” Pierce said.

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