Staff Photo: John Bohn Parkview's Iris Gonzalez (14) heads the ball while defended by Mill Creek's Alex Giles (4) during the first half of a girls soccer first round Class AAAAA playoff game Wednesday. Mill Creek defeated Parkview 1-0.
LILBURN -- In the end, Wednesday night's first-round game of the Class AAAAA state girls soccer playoffs between Mill Creek and Parkview literally came to a head.
Actually, it came down to two headers -- one by Mill Creek's Megan Hatfield that found the mark and another by Parkview's Alex Bowen that clanged off the crossbar.
Add in a possible game-tying goal that was disallowed for offsides and it was more high drama in the Region 7 vs. Region 8 first-round bracket, with the visiting Hawks taking the 1-0 win at the Big Orange Jungle.
"It's a great game, and sometimes it can come down to the ball bouncing for one team and not the other," Mill Creek coach Brent Leitsch said after his No. 7 state-ranked Hawks (13-4-1) advanced to the second round, where they will travel to Newnan on Wednesday. "(These were) two evenly matched teams. ... We both played hard. We both played with intensity. We were just lucky to come out on top (Wednesday) night.
"In Gwinnett County, you've got great (high school) soccer programs in both regions. Any time you put them together, you're going to get a great game. The fans got one (Wednesday) night, and it was fun to be a part of."
It wasn't until after a first half that ended 0-0 after most of the action was played between the 18-yard marks that the offenses began to produce scoring chances.
Hatfield actually got her first big scoring opportunity six minutes into the second half when she broke free on left wing to put herself in position for a well-placed cross from Alex Giles, only to deflect the pass just outside the back post.
But the senior midfielder wasn't about to let her next opportunity slip away just over 20 minutes later.
This time, she found open space in the penalty area and leapt high into the air to head Cortney Emmert's corner kick from the right wing into the back of the net, putting Mill Creek up 1-0 with 25:36 to play.
"That's what we practiced all week -- defending set pieces and attacking set pieces," Leitsch said. "We knew that was one of (Parkview's) strengths. ... We knew we had some great headers of the ball, and we knew we could probably get one ourselves."
But even after Mill Creek got its head on the ball at the right time, the Hawks had to hang on when it looked like Parkview (11-7-1) had done the same twice.
Just minutes after goalkeeper Rachel Allred had made two of her six saves on the night to thwart chances by Elizabeth Quintanilla and Emily Nixon, that looked like it had finally broken through.
Nixon sent a corner kick from the left wing into the box that was punched in the air by Allred, and then deflected twice before Quintanilla booted home the apparent game-tying goal with 12:25 to play.
But the linesman on the right sideline had his flag up to signal offsides, negating the goal and keeping Mill Creek in front by a goal.
Still, the Panthers got another chance as the clock wound down to the one-minute mark on another corner kick from the left side.
This time, Nixon found Bowen onside and in space in the middle of the penalty area, and the junior midfielder sent a header forward that appeared to be on target.
But the ball was just inches high and rang off the crossbar and over, giving Mill Creek a goal kick and an opportunity to run out the clock.
It was a tough way for Parkview's season to end, though coach Judson Hamby was pleased with his team's effort.
"Mill Creek shouldn't be a four seed," Hamby said. "We've had some very good games with them over the years, and we knew this game was basically going to come down to who made the first mistake. I knew this game was probably going to be (decided by) whoever scored the first goal.
"But the positive for us was that when we went down, we really fought and gave it our all."