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Consistent Hawks win Stage Races

Mill Creek's Eric Westhog, left, leads early in Stage 5 and finishes second Saturday at the 2012 Stage Races at River Green in Duluth.

Mill Creek's Eric Westhog, left, leads early in Stage 5 and finishes second Saturday at the 2012 Stage Races at River Green in Duluth.

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Mill Creek's Jonathan Westhog leads the pack in Stage 1 at the 2012 Stage Races at River Green in Duluth on Saturday.

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Brookwood's Holly Gunder heads for the finish in Stage 3 Saturday at the 2012 Stage Races at River Green in Duluth.

DULUTH -- Mill Creek didn't win any of the five stages during the Peachtree Ridge-Walton Stage Races, but second-place finishes in all five stages propelled them to a team win Saturday at the Rivergreen Complex.

St. Pius X also scored 10 points to tie for first, winning three of the five stages. However, a higher finish by the sixth runner gave the Hawks the first-place trophy.

"It's early, but it's a pleasant start to the season," Mill Creek head coach Andy Christie said. "We know a couple of the schools didn't run some of their top guys, but we're still pleased with the effort our guys put in."

The main difference in the Stage Races is that it's a 3,200-meter race, as opposed to a 5,000-meter race at all other meets. Each stage went off 15 minutes apart with Stage 5 reserved for each team's fastest runners.

In Stage 5, St. Pius X runner Austin Sprague won with a time of 9:47, while Mill Creek's Eric Westog wasn't too far behind in second. In Stage 4, Calvin Tirrell took the win for St. Pius X with Mill Creek's Matt Tippins finishing second.

"Eric lost his shoe after 400 meters, so I wonder what would have happened had that not happened," Christie said.

Christie said he was impressed with many of his runners, although he expected Westog and Tippins to finish as well as they did.

"Sven Hope and Jonathan Westog were two nice surprises," he said. "A lot can change when you add the extra 1.1 miles. Some of the teams that we beat may be better than us, so we still have work to do."

The coach did mention the Hawks' season is dedicated to the memory of Tajay Hoppines, who ran with the team last year. Hoppines died in a swimming accident on Aug. 9 and had earned a cross-country scholarship at Valdosta State University.

"We have his initials on our singlets," Christie said. "It's just one of the many ways we're going to honor him this year."

With the team win, the Hawks have taken that first step in honoring their teammate.

The win also broke a string of four-straight Brookwood wins at the event.

Brookwood finished third with 27 points, while Collins Hill tied Harrison for fourth place with 35 points.

In the girls' race, North Gwinnett was the highest finishing county team, finishing in sixth with 42 points. Roswell won with 19 points, while Walton was second with 21 points, Dunwoody third with 22 points and Etowah fourth with 40 points.

In the girls' Stage 5, Dunwoody's Alex Cameron won with a time of 11:33 with Brookwood's Quandra Shanks finishing second. Stage 4 saw Dunwoody's Ansley Heavern and Walton's Sara Hardin take the top two spots.

After Collins Hill won the event for 10-straight years, the last two years have seen two different winners in Roswell and Walton (last year).