Staff Photo: John Bohn Collins Hill first baseman Payton Wilson (20) keeps her eyes on the ball to make an out on Mill Creeks's Morgan Bell (24) during the fourth inning of the second game of the Region 7-AAAAA championship played Thursday at Mill Creek. Collins Hill's Wilson went on to hit the game and series winning sacrificial fly later during the game.
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HOSCHTON -- As back-and-forth as Region 7-AAAAA's softball championship series between Collins Hill and Mill Creek was, it seemed only fitting that it ended in walk-off fashion.
And thanks to winning the coin flip before the third and deciding game, Collins Hill got that last at bat, which the No. 7 state-ranked Eagles took advantage of with Payton Wilson's walk-off sacrifice fly to center to take a 4-3 victory Thursday at the Hawks Nest.
The third-ranked Hawks (24-8-1) forced Game 3 with a 2-0 win earlier in the day behind a complete-game shutout from Tori Mitchell (14-5) and RBIs from Lauren Bennett and Alyssa Stringer, but Wilson's two RBI and a solid day's pitching from Kayla Floor (9-4) sent Collins Hill (21-7) to their third straight region title.
"My hat's off to Mill Creek. They battled all season," said Collins Hill coach Paul Pierce, whose team will play host to Grayson in the first round of the Class AAAAA state playoffs next week. "Coach (Roger) Parham and his staff do a great job. It was a great series, and it's unfortunate that somebody had to lose.
"Our girls have fought all year. I'm so proud of them. We graduated an awful lot last year, but our girls set this goal early, and they've worked hard and suffered adversity. ... Just get there. That's what our motto has been all year, and let's fight our guts out and see what happens."
What happened Thursday was a great deal of ebb and flow for each team after the Eagles came into the day with a 1-0 series lead thanks to Tuesday's 10-8 victory.
It was Mill Creek that took the early 1-0 lead in the top of the first of Game 2 by taking advantage of two Collins Hill errors and Bennett's RBI single.
And Stringer's RBI single three innings later was all Mitchell needed, as the senior right-hander scattered seven hits over the seven innings by stranding 10 Eagle baserunners to help the Hawks hang on.
"I was extremely proud of Tori (on Thursday)," said Parham, whose Hawks will host Parkview in a first-round playoff series next week. "She really battled all night long. ... Tori has to hit spots and change speeds, and she did a good job."
She also did a solid job in the third game, but fell behind when Collins Hill struck in the first inning this time, taking a 1-0 lead when Brittany Roley drew a leadoff walk, went to second on a passed ball, was sacrificed to third by Wilson and came home on a wild pitch.
The lead reached 2-1 when the two teams exchanged runs in the third, with Mill Creek tying the score 1-1 on a throwing error and Collins Hill answering when Wilson blooped an RBI single just fair inside the left-field line in the bottom of the inning.
And it looked like that might be enough for Floor, who gave up just two earned runs and scattered 15 hits over 14 innings with seven strikeouts on the day.
But Mill Creek wasn't through, and jumped in front with the help of the bottom of their order in the top of the sixth.
Morgan Bell's infield single tied the game 2-2, and Stringer's second clutch hit of the day -- a two-out, RBI triple to the gap in right-center -- gave the Hawks a 3-2 lead and put them just six outs away from the title.
But back came Collins Hill, pulling even at 3-3 in the bottom of the sixth on Emily Buck's two-out, RBI single before another nine hitter gave them an advantage leading off the seventh.
Known as a slap hitter, the left-handed Brea Dickey found an outside pitch to her liking and launched it over the head of Mill Creek leftfielder Taylor Rogers for a triple.
After Roley reached on a fielder's choice and took second in trying to draw a throw from the infield to bring home the winning run, the Hawks were forced to pitch to Wilson with nobody out and the dangerous Mckenzie Halstead lurking on deck.
"With one out in that situation, you go ahead and intentionally walk two people," Parham said. "With nobody out, you've got to get first out and then you can walk two people. And we knew (Halstead) was coming up, so we didn't want to be put in a situation where she was in the box with the bases loaded. It's not a great situation, but the game was not won or lost by either team in the last inning. There were other opportunities to score in other innings."
True, but the last one came for Wilson, and the Collins Hill first baseman sent a fly ball to center deep enough to allow the speedy Dickey to sprint home with the title-clinching run.
"(Mitchell) had just been a little wild (in the inning), and I was just waiting for my pitch to do my job and score the run in from third," said Wilson, who was 2-for-5 with the two RBIs and a walk on the day. "It's something I've been working on in practice a lot. I'm just so excited."