HOSCHTON -- If the first two games between Region 7-AAAAA foes Mill Creek and North Gwinnett provide an indication of things to come, the next meeting on April 27 promises to be a thrill.
After North had pulled out a thrilling 4-3 eight-inning win on Monday night at home, Mill Creek returned the favor Wednesday night at Father's Field in a come-from-behind 7-6 victory in 10 innings.
More importantly, it put Mill Creek back into a tie for first place in the region with North as both teams now sit at 9-3.
North (15-5, 9-3) had taken a 6-5 lead in the top of the 10th inning.
Designated hitter Ben Carswell (2-for-4, 1 run scored) got it started with an infield single. After Danny Sanchez came on as a pinch runner, he moved to third when Mill Creek couldn't handle Noah Ford's sacrifice bunt.
With Sanchez at third and pinch runner Brady Powell at second for Ford, North was in business with nobody out.
But Andrew Hostetter, who came on for starter Cody Pugh after seven innings, got Justin Moran to ground out and Mill Creek (13-6, 9-3) went to the bullpen for Shane Seckinger.
Cody Short struck out for the second out of the inning and it looked like Mill Creek would get out of the 10th-inning mess.
After the Hawks walked Cole Willoughby to load the bases, Justin Dutka drew a walk to force in Sanchez and North had the one-run lead.
But that only set the stage for Mill Creek's Kevin Kirk to be the hero.
Bryan Hudson (3-for-6, two runs scored) led off with a double down the left-field line.
After B.J. Harmon popped out to the catcher on a sacrifice bunt attempt, Nick Tillman was intentionally walked to give Mill Creek runners at first and second with one out.
That's when Kirk, who had gone hitless in the game but finished with three RBIs, promptly laced a double into the gap in right-center field to chase home Harmon and Tillman to give Mill Creek the win.
"It feels really good to come back and win this one," Mill Creek head coach Doug Jones said. "There were a lot of ebbs and flows in the game and luckily we got to hit last.
"That's the great thing about athletics and high school athletics in particular. You learn how to win and you learn how to lose. That was two good ball clubs playing tonight. I really didn't have to say anything to them when we had some scoring chances earlier in the game. We had to seize one of those moments when we had a chance and we finally did."
North jumped on top early with three runs in the first inning and one more in the second to take a 4-0 lead.
Michael Haynes laced a triple to score Willoughby and Dutka and Alex Kimble plated Haynes with an RBI double in the first.
A sacrifice fly by Dutka scored Moran in the second for the four-run North lead.
But Mill Creek poured across five runs in the bottom of the third to take a 5-4 lead.
Kirk's sacrifice fly scored Hudson, Tim Hernandez doubled home Harmon and Tad Newman got Tillman home with a single for the first three runs.
Then Tyler Boldt was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to force home Hernandez and that was followed by a groundout by Pugh to score Newman for the 5-4 Mill Creek lead.
North rallied to tie the game at 5-5 in the top of the fourth with an RBI fielder's choice by Ryan Hagan to score Willoughby.
Both teams had scoring opportunities over the next five innings before Kirk's game-winning hit.
"It felt great to come back and get this game," said Kirk. "We needed it. We had a lot of chances to score and we knew what we needed to do. So it felt great to finally get it done. That's a good team (North) over there and each game is definitely a battle."