ALPHARETTA -- As the No. 3 seed out of Region 7-AAAAA, Mill Creek's girls basketball team knew that if it were to make a deep run in the Class AAAAA state playoffs, it would have to come on the road.
After opening the tournament last Friday with a win at Brookwood, the Hawks followed that up on Tuesday night in the second round with a win at Alpharetta, coming home with a thrilling 51-49 triumph.
Tuesday's win sets up another road trip for Mill Creek (21-9), as it will travel to the University of West Georgia to face a familiar foe in North Gwinnett in the quarterfinals. The two region rivals will play each other Saturday at 7 p.m.
"Our region is tough and it's hard to get one of those top seeds," Mill Creek head coach Ashley Phillips said. "But it prepares us for what's ahead in a tournament like this."
Alpharetta entered Tuesday's game as one of the hottest teams in the tournament, coming off a Region 6-AAAAA crown and a first-round state tournament win that put its winning streak at 16.
That level of play helped the Raiders (24-4) turn a five-point deficit in the third quarter into a five-point lead for Alpharetta, going up 41-36 in the opening minute of the fourth quarter.
The Raiders nursed that lead for the next several minutes, keeping it at 45-41 with 2:50 left to play when Alexis Alexander scored on an offensive rebound.
But mere seconds after that putback, Mill Creek started its charge when Tamarr Williams took a quick feed from Jasmine Carter and buried a 3-pointer, her third trey of the night.
"(Alpharetta) had the momentum but Tamarr hit a huge 3 that got us back in it," Phillips said. "I told us that we needed to do what we do and we would be fine."
After Williams' 3-pointer, the Mill Creek defense forced a turnover on the ensuing possession with a Sierra Menzies steal.
Menzies, who scored all seven of her points in the second half, drove the length of the court for a layup and a 46-45 lead with 1:34 left.
The Raiders brought the ball back down court and again turned it over, leading to a trip to the free-throw line for Williams. Williams hit one of two, giving her 10 points on the night and a 47-45 lead.
Alpharetta came back on the next possession and got a good shot from Kylee Smith, but her effort rolled off the rim. The rebound was grabbed by Carter, who was fouled with 41 seconds left.
Carter, who finished with 12 points and five rebounds, hit both shots for a 49-45 edge. Free throws were an issue for Mill Creek as the Hawks were 10 of 24 on the night, but the 4 of 8 hit in the final minute proved to be pivotal.
Mill Creek got one more point with 24 seconds left when Carter hit one of two from the line to go up 50-45. Alpharetta answered with two free throws from Lauren Brown with 18 seconds left and a basket by Brown with four seconds to play, but the clock eventually ran out for the Raiders.
"It really was a great game," Phillips said. "I kept thinking during the game just how good it was and that it will be a shame for someone to go home with a loss.
"Alpharetta did exactly what we expected them to do. We knew Kylee was going to be a handful. India (Dillard) did a great job of keeping their second-leading scorer in check."
Smith led the Raiders with 16 points, while Brown added 15 points. Alpharetta's second-top scorer, Alexander, finished with 10 points while grabbing 15 rebounds.
Nadiya Miller led Mill Creek with 16 points, scoring eight in each half. Menzies led the team in assists with six.
"It would've been easy for us to lay down after they went up by five points," Menzies said. "But we kept our heads in and didn't change our pace. We pulled it out and it was a real nail biter.
"We stayed unselfish and focused, which is one the reasons why I love playing with these girls."