Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips. Mill Creek's Devin Bonin (3) slides safely into third base as Norcross' Zach Shirah (4) waits on the throw on Friday. Check out more photos from the game online at www.gwinnettdailypost.com.
NORCROSS — In the biggest moment for his team on the season, Mill Creek pitcher Brian Stillwell did more than deliver his best mound performance.
He delivered history.
The senior right-hander threw not only the first no-hitter of his career, but also the first no-no in school history in a 3-0 victory over Norcross on Friday night at misty Blue Devils Field.
“It feels great, but you’re only as good as your last start,” said Stillwell (6-2). “The biggest thing was the team goal. We wanted to come in here and win this and clinch the No. 1 spot, so we don’t have to mess around in the last week.”
Stillwell’s clutch outing, complemented by some aggressive baserunning by the offense, helped the No. 4 state-ranked Hawks (17-6, 12-4) lock down the Region 7-AAAAA championship and the No. 1 seed in the upcoming Class AAAAA state playoffs that comes with it.
He kept the host Blue Devils (12-11, 8-7) off balance by working both corners of the plate, especially with his big, sweeping curveball that helped create nine strikeouts.
“What a gem,” Mill Creek coach Doug Jones said. “What more can you ask for? I thought it was a well-pitched game on both sides. … There wasn’t a whole lot of hard-hit balls all night.”
Stillwell did have to pitch around hitting Kevin Casola and walking Joseph Wilber, plus a pair of fielding errors, one of which was his own on Will Paschal’s pop to the right of the mound in the sixth.
He also had to outduel Norcross starter Chris Raasch (4-4), who gave up just five hits and three runs — only two earned — with four strikeouts in 52⁄3 effective innings.
But the Hawks managed to create runs in the few opportunities that they had, mainly on the strength of six stolen bases in seven attempts.
“We’re not a big power team,” Jones said. “We do have some kids that can run. We just tried to play to their strengths.”
The Hawks literally stole a run in the third after Tyler Boldt — playing in place of injured catcher Jerad Curry — got things started lofting a one-out double to right and scored when Mitch Loving went the other way with an RBI single to right for a 1-0 lead.
Loving was erased at second on Devin Bonin’s fielder’s choice grounder to short, but the Hawks’ shortstop didn’t sit still long, stealing second and then swiping third on a double steal in front of Chandler Boyd, who had walked.
Bonin then scampered home when Connor Kasten legged out an infield single down the third-base line to extend the Mill Creek lead to 2-0.
Kasten then created an insurance run in the sixth after being hit by a pitch, stealing second and third and coming home when the throw on the latter steal sailed into left field.
That was plenty for Stillwell, whose no-hitter faced only a few threats, the biggest being Neil Reifenberger’s liner up the middle that Bonin ranged to his left and leapt to snag to end the fifth.
Despite the loss, Norcross remains very much in the picture for one of the three remaining playoff spots from the region, trailing Duluth by a half game for second place and standing a half-game ahead of North Gwinnett and a game ahead of both Collins Hill and Peachtree Ridge with three games remaining.
“Our first goal was to win a region,” Blue Devils coach Andy Collins said. “Our second goal, obviously, is to make the playoffs. Our second goal is intact, still, and we’re going to work hard to see if we can accomplish that goal.”
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