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No. 1 Collins Hill dispatches Etowah

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Collins Hill softball players hope patterns repeat themselves.

Last year they won Region 7-AAAAA, then a second-ever state championship. This season they again won region, and now are eyeing another state crown.

No. 1-ranked Collins Hill took an initial stride in that direction Wednesday when it swept visiting Etowah 6-1 and 11-3 in the first round of the playoffs. The pair of comeback victories advanced Collins Hill to next week's second round against Archer. A win there would graduate Collins Hill to the final eight tournament at the Olympic Softball Complex in Columbus.

Collins Hill (27-2-1), the top seed from Region 7-AAAAA, had a relatively easy time eliminating Etowah, the No. 4 seed from Region 5-AAAAA. Collins Hill had to overcome 1-0 and 3-1 deficits, though, which convinced at least Etowah (11-14) that it has potential to back its state titles of last season and 2005.

"They did a good job, once they were behind, of staying focused," said Etowah coach Tanya Sebring. "That's key in the playoffs."

Trailing 3-1 in the nightcap -- in part because of four errors -- Collins Hill exploded for five runs on four hits and an Etowah error in the fifth, then tacked on five runs on four hits and two errors in the sixth. Christina Parham led the charge with a single and a double, and McKenzie Halstead added a homer, a single and three RBIs.

"I was real confident in our team, even if we were struggling, that we'd make adjustments," said Parham, whose three-run homer helped Collins Hill beat North Gwinnett for the region championship. "You can't get too antsy (when behind). You just have to stay focused."

Halstead's third homer, a two-run shot to center, was icing on the cake once Collins Hill led 9-3 and batted nine players in both the fifth and sixth.

"We started getting a chain reaction of hits," she said. "And it's even better with people on base."

Eagles coach Billy Dooley was mildly frustrated his girls couldn't connect offensively until late in Game 2. Yet he considers his team on track to match last season's sweeps of Milton and Dacula in the first two rounds.

"This game is all about momentum," he said of not truly connecting at the plate until the fifth inning of the nightcap. "We were behind, but we got a couple key hits, and next thing you know, we're way ahead."

Collins Hill trailed 1-0 in the first game on a throwing error but tied the game on a bases-loaded walk and led 3-1 on RBI doubles by Brianna Cason and Halstead. Two infield errors plated Parham and Cason, and Collins Hill got its final margin when Payton Wilson scored on a fielder's choice.