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Hallberg, Hawks surge past Hillgrove for first playoff win

HOSCHTON -- It took a little while for the Mill Creek girls' offense to get rolling.

But once it did, Hillgrove was in a hole far too big to escape.

Mill Creek became the second Gwinnett County girls lacrosse team to win a playoff game -- but just by an hour or so. After getting bounced in the first round last season, the Hawks scored seven unanswered goals to break open the game and defeat Hillgrove 13-5 on Wednesday.

"It's very exciting," head coach Brian Williamson said. "Because of the draw, we get Milton on Friday who is No. 1 in the state. They're the real deal. We've got to play unbelievable. And the girls are excited."

Mill Creek's win, in which the Hawks were down early, came on the same night Peachtree Ridge's girls crushed McEachern.

"We had a little bit of nerves but we really had nothing to lose because no Gwinnett County girls team has ever won a game in the playoffs," said Emily Hallberg, who led the offensive effort with four goals. "So that was our motivation. We wanted to be the first team to win."

Mill Creek (17-2) won't be able to afford a slow start against Milton.

Top-ranked Milton is unbeaten by Georgia schools this season and has won six of the seven state titles awarded in the sport.

"We've always heard things about them and we've always wanted a chance to be able to play them," Hallberg said. "That was also our motivation. We wanted to see how good the team is and see if we can beat them.

"This win will help us. It gets us ready to go and try to keep the momentum going."

Hillgrove scored first, just 1:07 into the game and grabbed a 3-1 lead before the 10-minute mark. But Hallberg sparked a seven-goal run less than a minute later off an excellent leading pass from Allison Jackson.

That was all it took for the offense to find it's groove and in less than 10 minutes of clock time, the Hawks were up 8-3.

Hallberg had three of those, while Maddie Peek added another two. But the distribution of points was excellent. Tori Windom, Alexis Ordini and Abigail Fitler also found the back of the net in the first half.

"One of the best things about our team is we don't have one or two really strong players, we have a bunch of really good players," Williamson said. "We had six scorers and only 13 goals. We do a really good job of moving the ball around."

One of the other big reasons Mill Creek was able to keep pouring on the goals was repeated faceoff wins by Maddie Beck and Rachel Gann.

"They did a great job," Williamson said. "We made a switch in the middle of the season about who takes the draws and they did exactly what I needed them to do. It was awesome."

Beck kept winning draws and finding open teammates around Hillgrove's net. It might have been an even bigger deficit but for Hillgrove goalie Maci Murdock.

"We took a lot of shots and I knew the goals were going to come," Williamson said. "We were shooting like crazy. They had a great goalie. We could have had a lot more goals, but she played fantastic.

"And it started coming. All of a sudden you blink and we went score, score, score, score."

Hillgrove scored late in the first half after many of the Mill Creek starters were being rested to make it 8-4. But Mill Creek opened the second half with a goal by leading scorer Ordini and added four more.

Noelle Allen, who had set up several of the first-half tallies, swept in and buried a shot 10 seconds after Ordini. Windom got two more goals on either side of Hallberg's fourth for the hat trick. The last came with just 3:49 left in regulation and the Hawks killed the final minutes off the clock.

"I thought we played pretty well, not outstanding," Williamson said. "I thought we dropped a lot of balls and our offense at times gets too impatient. They want to put goals in boom, boom, boom. When they're calm and patient, though, we put in goals."