Photo: David McGregor Mill Creek's Mitch Loving (8) slides past Hillgrove catcher Michael Adkins during Wednesday's loss in Game 3 of the Class AAAAA state quarterfinals.
POWDER SPRINGS -- Getting leads was never a problem for Mill Creek in its Class AAAAA state quarterfinal baseball series at Hillgrove.
Keeping those leads was another matter.
After letting an early three-run lead get away in the opener and then rallying to tied the series in Game 2, the Hawks jumped out in front by five runs in the third and deciding game Wednesday.
But Hillgrove was relentless, scoring five times in the fifth to tie the game, then forcing extra innings after Mill Creek took the lead in the seventh before finally prevailing 7-6 on Tyler Weyenberg's walk-off, RBI single in the bottom of the ninth.
It was a bitter pill to swallow for the Hawks, whose season ended at 25-8 despite a strong night at the plate for Nick Tillman (2-for-3, double, home run, three RBIs) and Jerad Curry (3-for-5).
"It was a great start again (and) missed opportunities," said Mill Creek coach Doug Jones, who was ejected after a pickoff play ended the top of the ninth during an argument over whether Hillgrove (26-7) pitcher Josh Hagerman (1-0) committed a balk, culminating a running, two-inning battle between Jones and umpires. "In my opinion, it was two good teams battling back and forth. They made more plays than we did."
Like the first game of the series, it was Mill Creek making all the plays early.
This time, Tillman's solo homer led off the second inning and Chandler Boyd drove in two more with a clutch, two-out single to give the Hawks a 3-0 lead.
The lead became 5-0 on Tillman's two-run double in the third, and it looked like that would be enough as Cody Pugh had shut out Hillgrove on three hits over the first four innings.
But in the fifth, the game came unraveled for the sophomore right-hander and the Hawks.
Hillgrove sent 10 men to the plate and Max Oberkofler's two-run homer capped a five-run rally that tied the game at 5-5.
"I'm not going to lie to you, we tried to bleed (Pugh's) outing as long as we could," Jones said. "He was good for a while -- real good. ... We were just figuring if we could just get him through the inning, because I hadn't gotten Timmy (Hernandez) any time in the bullpen. It just didn't work out."
Hernandez did come on and stop the bleeding to get out of the fifth and sixth, and it looked like it would be rewarded as Mill Creek took a 6-5 lead in the top of the seventh, when a one-out single by Curry and a wild pitch put courtesy runner Tad Newman in scoring position before coming home on Connor Kasten's two-out single and an outfield error.
But it took just three pitches for Tucker Ehmig to retie the game at 6-6 with a solo homer -- his second of the series -- in the bottom of the inning.
And in the ninth, Robert Stewart -- in his first at-bat of the series -- smacked a one-out double, then advanced along with Justin Motley, who had been intentionally walked, on a passed ball and came home when Weyenberg sent the game-winning hit to left past a drawn-in infield.
That made a winner out of Hagerman, who had thrown just 22 innings on the year, but came on in relief of Oberkofler in the third and threw seven innings, giving up just one unearned run an five hits with six strikeouts.
"It's just a shame that one of these teams had to go home because that was an unbelievable series from Game 1 to the final pitch of Game 3," said Hillgrove coach David Richardson, whose Hawks advance to play Newnan in a state semifinal series next week. "It was just unreal. Both teams battled, and really, it was just that we got a break or two that (Mill Creek) didn't."
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