Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips
Mill Creek's Mitch Loving, left, turns the double play as Walton's Reid Hanner slides into second Friday.
HOSCHTON — Led by senior starting pitchers Chip Fleming and Brian Stillwell, the Mill Creek baseball team made quick work of Walton in the opening series of the Class AAAAA state playoffs Friday night.
The Region 7-AAAAA champion Hawks (22-6) took the first game of the best-of-three series 10-3 and punched their ticket to the next round with a 7-2 victory in the nightcap, maintaining the momentum they gained by winning six straight games to end the regular season.
“The momentum’s huge and if they win Game 2, they’ve got the momentum, so I think it’s critical,” Mill Creek head coach Doug Jones said. “I’m proud of the kids ... we made some things happen when we had to and I’m proud of them ... it guarantees me a decent night sleep.”
Despite allowing a baserunner in every inning, Fleming was able to pitch out of trouble and keep the Raiders (13-15) from scoring in bunches. He gave up eight hits, one walk and three earned runs in seven innings of work, while striking out four.
“Chip’s our bulldog,” Jones said. “He’s going to go out there and battle and nothing really phases him ... he handles adversity really well.”
Leading 2-0 in the bottom of the third, the Hawks used back-to-back doubles from senior catcher Jerad Curry and senior outfielder Connor Kasten to double their lead to 4-0.
Curry then belted an opposite field, two-run homer in the fifth to push Mill Creek’s lead to 6-2 and later added a sacrifice fly as he led the Hawks’ offense, going 2-for-3 with five RBIs.
Curry had a flair for the dramatic in Game 2 as he lined a go-ahead, three-run double to right-center field in the top of the seventh inning to break a 2-2 tie before senior third baseman Aryan Rodriguez tacked on two more with a triple later in the inning.
“Jerad Curry had a big night,” Jones said. “The home run was big and obviously the double right there that was huge. Big night for Jerad and I’m glad he had it.”
That was all the run support Stillwell would need as he closed the door in the bottom half of the inning to cap off an impressive pitching performance. Utilizing a sharp curveball throughout the night, Stillwell struck out 11 batters in seven innings of work, while allowing five hits, two walks and just one earned run.
“Brian came in and he spun the ball very well as he’s done all year,” Jones said. “When he does that and spots his fastball, he gives us a really good chance to win.”
Jones added that while he doesn’t have an exact game plan for success as Mill Creek gets set to take on Dacula in the second round, he feels confident that his players will continue their simplistic approach and that their preparation will pay off.
“I don’t think there’s any magic formula,” he said. “These kids just show up and punch the clock. We’re going to treat each series the same and just do what we do and hope we do better than our opponent.”