Staff Photo: John Bohn Mill Creek base runner Brandon Harmon (9) advances to third base from first base on a single, hit by teammate Kevin Kirk during the first inning of Monday's game against North Gwinnett.
SUWANEE -- Facing a defense never before seen, Cody Short knew what he had to do.
The No. 9 hitter for North Gwinnett stood at the plate in the bottom of the eighth inning with one out and Noah Ford representing the winning run on third base after a wild pitch.
Mill Creek coach Doug Jones moved an outfielder to cover third base like a first baseman, leaving just two outfielders. The third baseman and shorstop stood on the left side of the infield and the first and second baseman were in on the grass on the right side.
"I just wanted to sit back and let (the ball) get deep (in the zone) so I could hit it to center," Short said.
Even with a new pitcher midway through that at-bat, Short did just that, crushing the ball to centerfield for the game winning hit, as North beat Mill Creek 4-3. Short went 3-for-4 on the night.
The win puts North alone atop Region 7-AAAAA with a 9-2 region record and drops Mill Creek a game back to 8-3. The two teams meet against Wednesday.
"It's a big win," Short said. "We are one up on them. Obviously, we don't want to split with them."
The Bulldogs took a 1-0 lead in the first inning on an RBI groundout by Ryan Hagan and it wasn't until the fourth inning that Mill Creek answered.
The Hawks scored on back-to-back RBI singles Tyler Boldt and Logan Moseley to take a 2-1 lead.
North Justin Morgan tied the game at 2-2 when he singled in Ben Causewell in the bottom half of the inning. The Bulldogs re-took the lead in the fifth when Alex Kimble doubled in Hagan. Kimble went 2-for-3 with a double and in his one at-bat for an out, the right-hander hit a hard line drive snagged by the Hawks third baseman Tim Hernandez.
"That's what he did last year," North Gwinnett coach Frank Vashaw said of Kimble who struggled early in the season. "Things are just starting to turn around for him."
North Gwinnett got a solid start from sophomore Tucker Baca. The lefty allowed three runs over seven innings, giving up 10 hits and striking out six. In the top of the seventh, after giving up an RBI double to Nick Tillman that tied the game, Baca struck out the Hernandez to end the inning and keep the game tied.
"I just had to stay focused," Baca said of his mentality after allowing the tying hit. "It was tough."
Danny Parry entered in the eighth and stranded another Mill Creek runner to set up Short's big hit.
Noah Ford walked to start the bottom of the eighth, Justin Morgan bunted him to second and Ford reached third on a wild pitch. The wild pitch prompted the mid-bat pitching change and the odd defensive alignment.
"I've never seen that," Vashaw said. "It's always fun to play Mill Creek because they are always going to be well-played and well-coached."
Short was mobbed by his teammates after he crossed first base and they capped his game-winning night by covering him with a face full of sunscreen. It was the closest a high school team could come to finding shaving cream.
But after he wiped his face off, Short too more pleasure in the immediate celebration. Getting jumped on, never felt so good.
"Last year I was always the guy trying to knock the dog pile down," Short said. "This time, I got to be on the bottom of it."