Photo: David McGregor Parkview baserunner Mac Marshall slides around Mill Creek catcher Tyler Boldt during the Panthers game one victory over the Hawks on Monday in Lilburn.
LILBURN -- It can literally be said that a dark cloud hovered over both teams during Game 1 of the Class AAAAA state baseball semifinal series between Parkview and Mill Creek.
However, the two teams managed to beat the weather long enough to complete the opener, and Jack Esmonde came up with late heroics for the host and No. 1 state-ranked Panthers.
The senior right-hander threw 2 strong innings out of the bullpen, and got just enough of a Shane Seckinger pitch to leg out an infield hit that capped a two-run rally in the bottom of the seventh and lifted the defending state champions to a walkoff 5-4 win Monday at High Buchanan Field.
Having already waited out a near two-hour rain delay and with more inclement weather in the area, the two teams decided to push the series into Tuesday, with Game 2 now scheduled for 4 p.m., with a third game, if necessary to follow.
And Parkview (28-6) will take the series lead into that second game after an opener that saw plenty of momentum shifts and distractions due to the weather.
"A win is a win," Panthers coach Chan Brown said. "Sometimes you win pretty. Sometimes you win ugly. Our kids competed. They played hard.
"There was some adversity that happened (Monday) night. Our kids have been able to find a way all the time through adversity. Obviously, we're proud of them for doing that (Monday) night. Well take a win any way we can get it."
The Panthers got it Monday with some late inning magic despite falling behind after the game had become official, and with the specter of more inclement weather hanging over them.
Matt Olson came back after the long rain delay with a 3-1 lead and threw a strong top of the fourth, needing just three more outs to make it an official game with Parkview still holding the lead.
But Mill Creek (24-10) got to the senior right-hander in the top of the fifth with a rare display of power.
Tyler Boldt jumped on Olson's first offering of the inning and launched it over the wall in left-center for a solo home run to cut the Panthers' lead to 3-2.
That brought up Jesse Thomas, who came on to pitch for Cody Pugh following the rain delay, and had just 12 previous at-bats this season, most of which came as a pinch-hitter.
But the junior came up with a huge swing on a 2-2 pitch from Olson and launched another solo homer to pull the Hawks even at 3-3.
A bloop single by B.J. Harmon one out later spelled the end of the day for Olson in favor of Esmonde (4-1), who was greeted rudely by Nick Tillman's double that scored Harmon, who had stolen second, to give Mill Creek a 4-3 lead.
But Esmonde and Parkview refused to let the possibility of weather shortening the game get to them, even after still trailing heading into the Panthers' final at-bat.
"We just knew we could never give up," said Esmonde, who finished the game 3-for-4 at the plate and threw 2 innings, giving up just two hits and striking out four. "This team does a great job of coming back and never giving up and always finding a way to come up with a victory."
They found a way after Josh Hart (2-for-3, two runs) led off the seventh with a single and went to second when Olson (2-for-2, two RBIs) drew his second walk of the game.
Pinch-hitter Jake Hipple then moved the runners along with a sacrifice bunt, prompting Mill Creek coach Doug Jones to pull reliever Kevin Kirk (0-3) to bring on scheduled Game 2 starter Seckinger.
"I'm just trying to win Game 1, to be honest," Jones said of the decision. "I thought it was important to at least split if we were going to play two games. So, whatever it took to win one. I'd do it again a thousand times. It just didn't work out."
Seckinger had initial trouble with his control, throwing a wild pitch that brought home Hart with the tying run in the process of falling behind in the count 3-and-1 before issuing an intentional walk to load the bases.
The junior right-hander then seemed to settle down by striking out Ryan Blanton, and then jamming Esmonde with a pitch that the Georgia-bound senior fisted just over the pitcher's mound.
But with two outs in the inning, Mill Creek second baseman Dillon Kokinos was playing back, and had a long way to come for the ball, which he bobbled slightly before firing wide on a throw that was too late to beat the sprinting Esmonde anyway, giving the latter the game-winning, RBI infield single and Parkview the game.
"I couldn't have thrown (the ball) out there any more perfectly," Esmonde said. "I know at least we were going into another inning if I didn't get the job done. But luckily, the ball fell our way."
The Hawks, meanwhile, will have time to rebound behind Seckinger, who threw only a minimal amount of pitches and should be ready to go this afternoon to try to force a third and deciding game.
"I told (the players) I was proud of them," Jones said. "You never like to lose games that way. We stared them eyeball-to-eyeball. We competed. We played as hard as we could.
"I think we made a good decision (to postpone Game 2 to today). We didn't want to get two starters ready, then have to stop."
Jarrett Freeland also had a good day for Parkview with an RBI double, while Bryan Hudson went 3-for-4 and Harmon went 2-for-4 and Logan Moseley went 2-for-3 for Mill Creek. Tim Hernandez also had an RBI single for the Hawks.