Eagles answer the call

SUWANEE -- Opportunity knocked plenty for both teams in Friday's Region 7-AAAAA baseball game between Collins Hill and North Gwinnett, and the host Eagles answered with much more frequency.

Grant Earls blasted a pair of home runs and made some clutch pitching in key spots in relief of James Buckelew to help Collins Hill to a 7-1 home victory.

Combined with Mill Creek's rout of first-place South Forsyth, the win pulled the Eagles (15-5, 9-3) to within a game of the region lead, while still keeping them a game ahead of the third-place Hawks with a tie-breaker advantage.

"It gives us a chance," said Earls, who hit his second and third homers of the season, on the win, which gives Collins Hill an opportunity to grab a share of the region lead if it can beat South Forsyth on Monday at home. "This makes that game huge. Plus, North Gwinnett has always been a big rival. So, it's nice to get the win."

Earls and the Eagles flexed their muscles in the top of the first against North starter Rickey Pines (0-1) as the senior followed Garitt Church's solo homer with one of his own to give Collins Hill an early 2-0 lead.

Buckelew (6-1) then ran into some trouble as North began the second time through its order in the top of the third.

Hawkins got the inning started with a one-out double to right-center, followed by an infield hit from Seth Bancroft and a walk to Nick Jones to load the bases.

Will Bates then sent a high chopper down the third-base line that Spencer Horridge fielded before firing a strike to the plate.

Hawkins beat the throw to pull the Bulldogs to within 2-1, and it looked like they might get more when Luke Tindol sent a hard-hit ball towards the hole between short and third.

But Church dove to his left to make the stop and fired a bullet to first for the out.

Buckelew's string of scoreless innings was snapped at 222/3 innings, but the Eagles still had the lead.

"That play by Church was big because it was only a 2-1 game," Collins Hill coach Paul Pierce said. "And you know how big momentum is."

The Eagles fully seized momentum after taking advantage of an unearned run that scored on what should have been an inning-ending pop to the mound off Horridge's bat, which pushed the lead back to two runs at 3-1.

Morgan Ownbey then added to the lead in the bottom of the fourth.

After hitting a foul ball with home run distance on Pines' first offering, the junior second baseman lined the next over the wall to the left of center field, making the lead 4-1.

Ownbey's bomb opened the floodgates as Church added an RBI single and Earls followed with his second homer of the night to extend the lead to 7-1.

Buckelew tired in the top of the sixth and gave way to Earls after walking Chad White and giving up a single to Jeremy Burns with nobody out.

The tall right-hander restored order, striking out the side -- with an intentional walk to Hawkins mixed in -- to keep the Eagles' lead comfortable.

The three runners stranded in the inning were among 11 the Bulldogs (10-10, 6-6) left on base for the game, leaving coach Frank Vashaw to ponder opportunities missed by his team.

"We've been our own worst enemy (so far)," Vashaw said. "We had opportunities to score. Buckelew's a good pitcher, but he was able to take advantage of his opportunities better than we were. We just have to find some consistency."

Cameron Starling then set down North in order in the seventh to close out the win for Buckelew, who scattered six hits and the one run and struck out seven over five innings.

Earls, Church and Ownbey each finished the night 2-for-3 for Collins Hill.