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Mill Creek dethrones defending champs

HOSCHTON -- Class AAAAA will not have a repeating state baseball champion this year.

Mill Creek made sure of it.

Facing Pope in the first round of the state playoffs Friday, Mill Creek received both solid pitching and an offensive outburst to sweep the defending state champ Greyhounds, taking the first game 6-4 while winning the nightcap in a 15-2 rout.

Mill Creek, now winners of nine straight, will face the Brookwood-Etowah winner in Wednesday's second round.

"I'm just happy to be moving on," Mill Creek head coach Doug Jones said. "I'm proud of our kids for battling in Game 1 and beating a great pitcher. We kept scoring runs with two outs in the second game and those were huge. We'll take it and move on."

Pope (18-9) started Game 1 showing flashes of its state title team from a year ago by getting out to a 3-0 lead off a solo home run from Connor Lynch in the second inning and a two-run single from Lynch in the third.

But Mill Creek's power stroke came to life in the bottom of the third when Connor Kasten launched a two-run homer to left and Greg Brody added a solo shot to tie it 3-3.

Kasten's and Brody's homers were the first two of five round-trippers Mill Creek had on the night, but none were bigger than sophomore Nick Tillman's shot in the bottom of the sixth.

Pope regained the lead in the fourth off a solo homer from Alex Kvikyls and starter Will Kendall, an Auburn signee, made it stand into the sixth inning.

But Tillman's bomb to dead center on a 2-2 pitch changed the outcome of the game, giving the Hawks a 5-4 lead.

"He was nervous in his first couple of at-bats because he's a young kid," Jones said. "That was obviously a big hit. He had a couple of those for us tonight."

After tacking on another unearned run for a 6-4 margin, Game 1 starter Eric Alonzo closed out the complete game effort, finishing with seven strikeouts and four runs on five hits with two walks.

Alonzo seemed to grow stronger as the game went on, posting zeros on the board in the final three innings, while recording four of the last six outs via strikeout.

"He's a great competitor and when it mattered, he struck out several guys in a row," Jones said. "He may have been a little hot and a little tired, but you're going to get a competitor every time he goes on the mound. He always gives us everything he's got."

With Game 1 under their belt, the Hawks sent ace Matthew Grimes to the hill in Game 2. But it wasn't the pitching that stole the story.

Mill Creek forged out 16 hits, including home runs from Casey Parham and another from Tillman, to put away the Greyhounds 15-2.

Mill Creek (23-5) pounced early, scoring four runs in the first, getting three on Parham's homer, while adding two more in the second, five in the fourth (three coming from Devin Bonin's three-run double) and three more in the fifth.

Every Mill Creek starter had at least one hit and Grimes did the rest, giving up two runs on three hits with six strikeouts and three walks.