HOSCHTON -- Survive and advance -- that is the mantra most teams abide by when in the playoffs. Mill Creek really put that saying to the test on Saturday.
Facing Shiloh in Game 3 of the first round of the Class AAAAA state playoffs, the Hawks jumped to an early 6-0 lead only to see Shiloh fight its way back before finally sending the Generals home with an 8-6 series-clinching win.
The win sends Mill Creek (20-9) to a home series in the second round against East Coweta on Wednesday, while Shiloh (17-12) saw its first playoffs series since 1999 come to an end.
"We've played in a lot of close games this year and have been battle tested," Mill Creek head coach Doug Jones said. "I was upset with our guys last night after the second game and challenged them. They came and answered the bell today."
The contest looked like it was going to be an easy blowout win for Mill Creek as the Hawks scored six runs in the first inning.
Shiloh starter Chase Waters was never able to get on track, facing just four hitters while recording no outs. He threw just 18 pitches, 16 of which were balls as he walked each batter he faced.
Khalil Gilchrist was called in to relieve Waters and didn't fare much better. The first batter he faced, Tim Hernandez, hit a sharp liner that was dropped on the infield, allowing Brandon Harmon to score for a 2-0 lead, while Tad Newman drove in a run on a fielder's choice grounder.
Another error on an infield grounder would allow the fourth run to score, while Tyler Boldt doubled off the left field wall to push the margin to 5-0.
Ben Crowder would perfectly execute a squeeze play to push across Dillon Kokinos for the sixth run. After the dust had settled, Mill Creek had scored six times (two unearned) on four walks, two errors and just one hit.
Facing a 6-0 hole in an elimination game, Shiloh showed some resiliency in the second by scoring four runs to get back in the game.
Kyle Lewis led off the inning and reached base when he was hit by a pitch, while Bakari Gayle followed with a walk. Two hitters later, B.J. Armstead boomed a double to center field to plate Lewis and Gayle.
With two outs and runners at first and third, Marcus McCorkle would single to right to plate Armstead. McCorkle would then get caught in a rundown long enough to allow Eriq White to score, cutting the Mill Creek advantage to 6-4.
After that, both team's pitchers settled into a groove. Mill Creek starter Kane Fraser would go 3 innings, giving up five runs on six hits with three strikeouts. The last run he allowed came in the fourth off an RBI double in the right field corner by Chad Smith.
"Fraser gave us a quality start," Jones said. "This was his first playoff game."
Chad Smith would come into the game for Shiloh and he gave five strong innings, giving up just two earned runs on five hits with seven strikeouts and one walk.
Shiloh tacked on another run in the fifth when Lewis, who finished 2-for-3 with two runs, singled to right, eventually reaching third and scoring when reliever Kevin Kirk was called for a balk. The balk was the fifth one called in the game, three on Mill Creek and two on Shiloh.
That run cut the score to 7-6, but the Hawks pushed across a big insurance run in the bottom of the fifth on an RBI single to left by Boldt, who finished the day 2-for-3 with two RBIs.
"He's been one of our best players the last several weeks," Jones said of Boldt. "He's really come around swinging the bat and takes a lot of pride in his craft at catcher."
Logan Moseley came in the game in the game in the sixth and threw two scoreless innings for the save, giving up just one hit with two srikeouts and one walk, getting the final out on a force play at second when Ben Crowder mad a nice sliding stop up the middle on a grounder by Gayle.
But that early 6-0 hole proved to be too deep for the Generals to fill back up.
"We've had to fight back all year but it's hard when you put yourself in that position in a game of this caliber," Shiloh head coach Reggie Ingram said. "We left some runners on and the game was much closer than the score indicated. I'm really proud of how our guys fought back through all of that."
McCorkle ended his day 2-for-3 with an RBI, while Armstead finished 1-for-3 with two RBIs.