SUWANEE -- Both ends of Tuesday night's Mill Creek-Peachtree Ridge soccer doubleheader were critical swing matches in terms of the Area 7-AAAAA standings.
There were plenty of swings in the opener as Mill Creek's No. 8 state-ranked girls built a two-goal lead in the first half and withstood a furious rally by the host Lions to hold on for a 2-1 victory.
In the nightcap, Tyler Moody scored a goal and added an assist, while Nick Muntean chipped in a goal and an assist as fourth-ranked Mill Creek kept pace for the area lead with a 4-1 win over No. 7 Peachtree Ridge.
The win by Mill Creek's girls pulled the Hawks (7-3-1, 3-1) even with Peachtree Ridge (7-4, 3-1) for second in the area standings, just one game behind North Gwinnett, thanks to first-half goals by Cortney Emmert and Madelyn Youngblood and a defensive effort that saw them fend off many challenges by the Lions in the final 40 minutes.
"We knew at halftime that we were going to get (Peachtree Ridge's) best their best game in the second half," Mill Creek girls coach Brent Leitsch said. "They did (play their best). ... They got a nice goal off a nice corner play, (but) we held on. They tested us.
"It definitely is a big game. It puts us in a good position to qualify for the (state) playoffs. ... Five wins puts you in. We're at three."
The Hawks jumped out quick with Emmert finding the back of the net just over seven minutes after the opening kickoff.
After a Peachtree Ridge scoring chance, the senior midfielder ran down a long ball by Lauren Tanner up the middle and broke past the defense before beating Lions goalkeeper Cosette Morche inside the near post to put Mill Creek up 1-0 at the 32:54 mark.
Morche helped keep Peachtree Ridge close with a diving save off an Alex Giles header in the 22nd minute, but Giles helped put Mill Creek back on the board with another long run off a counterattack less than eight minutes later.
This time, the junior forward broke in on Morche who came off her line, but missed the ball. Giles' initial shot was blocked by a defender, but the rebound came right to Youngblood, who was on the mark into the empty net to extend the Hawks' lead to 2-0 with 10:22 left in the first half.
But with the score the same at intermission, momentum shifted dramatically in the second half.
Peachtree Ridge began to create several scoring chances, with perhaps the best coming in the 51st minute, when Graham Green attempt to send Phoebe Palmer ahead with a long ball through the middle, only to have Mill Creek goalkeeper Rachel Allred come off her line to smother it near the top of the penalty area.
But the Lions finally broke through on a corner kick just over six minutes later.
Palmer's kick from the right corner came into the penalty area to Jordyn Missel, who rocketed a shot that was stopped by Allred.
But the rebound caromed right to Macey Raines, who sent a hard shot into the back of the net to pull Peachtree Ridge to within 2-1 with 20:55 still remaining.
The Lions kept the pressure on, and it nearly paid off just under six minutes later on a play similar to Palmer's chance earlier in the half.
This time Allred was whistled for handling the ball just outside the penalty area to set up a free kick, and was temporarily sent off for a yellow card following the play, forcing Paola Rivera to come in off the bench cold with 15:02 to play.
Shelby Jennings then sent the ensuing free kick from just outside the 18-yard mark clanging off the crossbar, and Peachtree Ridge couldn't manage to place another shot on goal before Allred was able to re-enter the game, and the Hawks were able to hold off the Lions over the final minutes to seal the win.
Mill Creek's boys (9-2, 3-1) took a similar path to victory by jumping in front early, but managing to avoid any late second-half drama in maintaining their share of the area lead with Collins Hill, while Peachtree Ridge (8-3, 2-2) fell into third-place tie with North Gwinnett, Duluth and Meadowcreek a game back.
"It's always a battle when we play Peachtree Ridge, and it always has big-time implications for the playoffs and what not," Hawks coach Sean Garnett said. "Last year, they beat us at home and they ended up getting second place in the region. So, it was nice for us to get it this year."
Tajay Hoppiness put the Hawks in front 1-0 at the 23:19 mark of the first half by converting and well-placed cross around the ground by Muntean inside the back post.
Moody then made it 2-0 when he broke in on left wing off a feed from Stephen Kirk and scored with 3:28 left in the first half, but Peachtree Ridge fought back to cut the lead just before halftime.
Jordan Davis popped a bouncing ball into the penalty area that Taylor Williamson sent over a charging Steven Arroyave and into the net with 17 seconds left, sending the Lions into intermission trailing just 2-1.
But it took just 2:58 into the second half for Mill Creek to get that goal back, as Zach Mruk cashed in with a shot from the left wing off an assist from Moody to extend the lead to 3-1.
"That sort of comes from senior leadership, being able to rebound off of a late goal (in the first half) that really bothered us," Garnett said. "It really bothered our guys, but at halftime, they got it all back together and came out with positive thoughts in the second half."
Muntean then tallied a goal with 23:40 to remaining to push the lead to 4-1 and the Hawks were able salt away the win, thanks to Arroyave, who made six saves on the evening, while back up Conner Buckley came on and made a save in the late minutes.
Darryl Sack had a strong night in goal for Peachtree Ridge with 13 saves, but the Lions finished the night without their coach, Ryan Sutton, who was assessed his second yellow card of the game with 5:56 remaining.