Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan North Gwinnett Ryan Hagan (3) fails to tag Mill Creek base runner Tripp Adams (3) during high school baseball action at North Gwinnett High School in Suwanee on Friday. Mill Creek defeated North Gwinnett 9-1.
SUWANEE -- Opportunity knocked plenty for both teams in Friday's Region 7-AAAAA finale between Mill Creek and North Gwinnett.
But the visiting No. 4 state-ranked Hawks were the ones who cashed in, scoring their first four runs on the evening with just one ball leaving the infield, while Shane Seckinger and Kevin Kirk stranded 10 North baserunners in Mill Creek's 9-1 victory over the fourth-ranked Bulldogs at McDaniel Field.
Mill Creek (18-8, 13-5), the region champion that plays host to Shiloh in the first round of the state playoffs beginning next Friday, had only seven hits on the night, but capitalized on six walks and five hit batsmen by North pitching.
"That's kind of who we are," Hawks coach Doug Jones said. "We get people on base and put pressure on."
It was North that actually put the pressure on first in Friday's game, as Tucker Baca (5-2) struck out the side on the top of the first and Cole Willoughby led off the bottom of the inning with a solo home run, followed by Ryan Hagan's infield single that left the Bulldogs with a 1-0 lead and threatening for more.
But Seckinger (7-0) showed his ability to escape trouble that served him well the whole evening, first picking off Hagan at first and then retiring J.D. Dutka and Alex Kimble to keep the deficit at just one run.
"He's a calm, cool customer," Jones said of Seckinger, who scattered five hits and the one earned run and pitched around four walks and two hit batsmen of his own by striking out eight over 5 innings. "So, he had confidence. He made some good pitches, and we made some good plays behind him defensively."
Seckinger had reason to be confident after Mill Creek cashed in on three walks and two hits, with Tyler Boldt's RBI single being the big blow, to score three times in the top of the second to give the Hawks a 3-1 lead.
From there, the junior right-hander kept getting in and out of trouble, with North loading the bases in the third and fifth innings and putting two more runners on in the fourth, only to come up empty.
"We battled and had opportunities," said North coach Frank Vashaw, whose Bulldogs (16-10) travel to Brookwood for a first-round playoff series next week. "It's kind of like what's happened the last couple of weeks. A lot of opportunities we've had, we've wasted."
Mill Creek didn't waste the chances they had to break the game open in the late innings off the North bullpen when Baca left after giving up just the three runs on four hits with six strikeouts over five innings.
The Hawks scored without a hit in the sixth when Dillon Kokinos was hit by a pitch and courtesy runner Tripp Adams went to second on a wild pitch and to third on a balk before coming home on Boldt's suicide squeeze bunt to make the score 4-1.
Mill Creek then tacked on five more runs off four more North relievers in the seventh, including RBI singles from Tim Hernandez and Tad Newman and Kokinos' sacrifice fly.
And Kevin Kirk, who had come on in relief of Seckinger with two outs in the sixth, recorded all four of his outs on strikeouts, including pitching around an error by striking out the side in the seventh to record his second save of the season.
Boldt finished the game 1-for-1 and two RBIs while being hit by a pitch twice for the Hawks, while Willoughby and Hagan each had two hits for the Bulldogs, who limp in to the postseason having lost five straight games and six of their last seven, with four of those losses coming by a single run each.
"We did not finish games we had a chance to finish in the last couple of weeks," Vashaw said.