Mill Creek's Megan Gil (11), left, and North Gwinnett's Caroline Gaskill(2) battle for the ball during the first half of a girls soccer game played Friday.
HOSCHTON — Gwinnett’s most accomplished girls soccer program of the previous two seasons has suffered through its share of struggles early this season.
A loaded schedule and a lopsided loss or two tested North Gwinnett’s character and bounced them from Class AAAAA state rankings, but those disappointing results don’t matter now. All they are focused on is region play.
North got that off to an ideal start Friday night with a 3-2 road victory over sixth-ranked Mill Creek in the Region 7-AAAAA opener — a rematch of last year’s state semifinals.
“What we’ve kind of (been) preaching is don’t get your heads down because of our record,” said Erik Crawford, who took over a North team this season that was AAAAA runner-up last year and AAAAA state champion in 2010. “All those games against ranked teams got us ready. If we play eight playoff games early in the season, we’ll be ready for region.”
North (5-4) got the game-winner midway through the second half off a scramble in the Mill Creek penalty box. Hawks goalkeeper Rachel Allred (eight saves) charged off her line to stop an open shot by Taylor Burns. The attempt found its way to Brooke Bortles, who slipped a shot between two defenders and into the open net.
The goal was a reward for North’s control of possession much of the match. The Bulldogs had a 12-4 edge in shots on goal and a 3-1 advantage in corner kicks.
“I’m happy with the way our midfield played,” Crawford said. “I think that’s where we won the game, in the middle of the field.”
North would have had less trouble getting the win if not for speedy Mill Creek striker Lauren Tanner, who scored both of her team’s goals. North moved Caroline Gualdoni back into the defense to mark Tanner, but the Mill Creek junior still made an impact.
While North peppered the Hawks’ net with shots early, it was the hosts who struck on their first shot, a breakaway goal by Tanner in the 26th minute.
But it took just 1 minute, 19 seconds for a Bulldog answer when Abby Grest finished off an exchange in the Hawks’ penalty box that started with a corner kick.
That 1-1 score held until the 50th minute, when Burns tapped a pass to Lauren Harriman, and the North senior sent a high shot off the hands of a diving Allred and into the net. This time Mill Creek (4-3-1) answered in the same fashion, another one-on-one breakaway by Tanner less than three minutes after Harriman’s goal.
But the deadlock was short-lived as North responded with Bortles’ game-winner.
Mill Creek boys 3, North 0
The fifth-ranked Mill Creek boys soccer team took a two-goal lead at halftime Friday night and coasted to a 3-0 victory over North Gwinnett in their Region 7-AAAAA opener.
Nick Muntean sparked the Hawks’ first-half offense, playing a part in both tallies. He weaved through three defenders on the right side and sent a hard cross that Tajay Hoppines volleyed in for the game’s first goal in the 19th minute and scored a goal of his own in the 32nd minute off a bad North turnover in its own box.
Less than three minutes into the second half, Mill Creek’s Kenneth Valencia made it 3-0 off a Tony Baza assist.
The Hawks (7-1) got a shutout from goalkeeper Steven Arroyave. North fell to 3-5-1.