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Hawks' lead slips away

Photo by Brandon Brigman

Photo by Brandon Brigman

MARIETTA -- Mill Creek's first round Class AAAAA playoff game with Walton on Tuesday night was rescheduled an hour earlier to avoid the incoming inclement weather.

Although the early start allowed the game to be finished without anything worse than a stiff southerly breeze, Mill Creek was unable to avert a second-half surge by the Walton offense as the Raiders came back for a 3-2 win.

Mill Creek took control in the final 10 minutes of the first half with a pair of goals and held on to that lead until the final 18:50 to play when the fifth-ranked Raiders put in two goals to end the Hawks' first playoff run.

"I was real proud of our guys and how they played tonight," Mill Creek head coach Sean Garnett said. "The past four years, we've been taking steps forward. Last year was our first year at .500 and this year was our first winning season and playoff appearance.

"I know that our guys are hurting right now but they'll look back on this one day and see what they accomplished."

The first half was played evenly until the 23rd minute when Walton struck first, getting a goal from Cory Plasker off an assist from Matt Shreiner on a free kick.

Mill Creek's 1-0 hole lasted for seven minutes when Kenneth Valencia took a throw in from Austin Butler in the box and kicked one past the Walton keeper for the 1-1 tie.

Feeding off that momentum, Mill Creek (11-7-1) scored again seven minutes later when Tanjay Hoppines ripped one in from the top left corner off of Taylor Scalera's assist.

Down 2-1, Walton (12-4) turned up its offensive pressure in the second half, getting seven shots on goal and five corner kicks. The Mill Creek defense was able to repel each attack until Shreiner broke through with a goal when a cross pass caromed off a Mill Creek defender.

Barely a minute later, the Hawks had a golden chance to regain the lead off a corner kick from Nick Muntean, but the loose ball that rattled around in front of the goal couldn't be corralled, resulting in a Walton defender finally knocking the ball away.

"I felt the chances were pretty even," Garnett said. "(Walton) was just able to finish a couple more than we were."

One of those chances that Walton was able to finish occurred with just over 12 minutes left when Plasker scored again, pulling out keeper Steven Arroyave on a breakaway and getting the ball past the last Mill Creek defender.

Mill Creek mounted its own offensive pressure but was hit with a big obstacle when Butler was red carded with 6:59 to play when he tackled a Raider from behind. Despite being down a player, Mill Creek still managed two more good looks, but the Walton defense was able to hold.

"I've been around over 20 years and I can't tell you how many battles I've had with Gwinnett County teams," said Walton head coach Bucky Boozer , whose team will play Berkmar next Wednesday in the second round. "Mill Creek did a great job tonight and made it real difficult for us."