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Collins Hill back in finals, could meet Mill Creek

COLUMBUS -- The formula remained the same as a day earlier, and so did the results for two-time defending state champion Collins Hill on Friday the Class AAAAA state softball tournament.

The No. 5 state-ranked Eagles jumped in front of third-ranked Hillgrove early and turned the game over to pitcher Kayla Floor, who dodged and escaped trouble throughout the evening to push her team into to championship round with a 3-1 victory at the South Commons Softball Complex.

Collins Hill (28-7) will play for its third straight state title beginning at noon today in the complex's stadium field.

There, they could run into a familiar foe, as cross-county and Region 7-AAAAA rival Mill Creek stayed alive by winning three times Friday.

The seventh-ranked Hawks (31-11-1) now meet Hillgrove today at 10 a.m. for the right to play Collins Hill for the title.

The familiar foe could match the familiar setting for the Eagles, and their start in Friday's win was also very familiar.

"We want to come out and play our game," Collins Hill coach Paul Pierce said. "I don't know if it's the first inning or seventh inning or the sixth inning, we just want to take advantage of opportunities and play hard and let good things happen."

For the third straight tournament game, good things happened for the Eagles from the onset.

This time, they led 2-0 after the first three hitters of the bottom of the first, with Brittany Roley leading off with a double and stealing third before coming home on Payton Wilson's RBI single, followed by Mckenzie Halstead's RBI double.

As it turned out, that would be enough for Floor, who gave up just three hits and one unearned run and struck out seven in the complete-game victory.

But it didn't come easy as Hillgrove (29-10) managed baserunners in all but two innings, thanks in no small part to five Collins Hill errors.

However, Floor managed to strand 11 of them, including six in scoring position, including leaving the bases loaded with the tying run at third base in the fourth, plus two runners left on base in the sixth and seventh innings.

"We didn't play flawless behind her and put her in some binds," Pierce said. "But experience, I think, shined a little bit (Friday) night. She was able to stay cool and keep her poise and was able to pitch out of some jams."

The Eagles did get her a little insurance in the sixth when Ashleigh Simmons drew a one-out walk before giving way to courtesy runner Mariah Dickey, who stole second, went to third on Roley's single and came home on Wilson's sacrifice fly to left, pushing the lead to 3-1.

And Floor managed to work out of trouble of her own doing in the seventh after a leadoff walk to Taylor Fennel and a one-out single from Ashley Allen.

The Georgia State-bound right-hander closed out the game by fanning pinch-hitter Jamie Davenport and Brittany Ferrell to put the Eagles back in the title game.

They await either a rematch with Hillgrove, or perhaps another meeting with Mill Creek, which had a long, but prosperous, day by battling through the elimination bracket with wins of 10-2 over Milton, 2-1 over top-ranked Brookwood and 4-1 over No. 6 Kennesaw Mountain.

And the Hawks will take a similar approach needing three more wins today to claim the program's second title in the last four seasons.

"I told (the team on Thursday), 'Your job is to win one game (Friday). The coaches' job is to figure out how to win three," Mill Creek coach Roger Parham said.

They did it with help from some familiar sources, like Nikki Sagermann, who had three hits -- including a home run -- and five RBIs and got two complete-game pitching wins with six strikeouts on the day, and Alyssa Stringer, who had three hits and an RBI on the day.

They also got help from last familiar sources, like MacKenzie Fagioli, who had limited playing time throughout the season, but went 5-for-9 with three doubles and four RBIs on the day, including breaking a scoreless tie and leading a two-run rally in the top of the seventh against Brookwood.

"She's had an opportunity, and she's seized the moment," Parham said of Fagioli. "She's extremely athletic ... and very intense."