Staff Photo: John Bohn Collins Hill's Tyra Holliday (22) celebrates scoring a run with teammates first baseman Payton Wilson (20), right, and Calli Star (9), center, during the second inning against Harrison in a Class AAAAAA GHSA state softball championship tournament game played Thursday in Columbus. Collins Hill defeated Harrison 3 to 2, to advance in the tournament.
COLUMBUS -- Clutch moments by veteran players were key for all three of Gwinnett County's Class AAAAAA representatives during opening day at the State Softball Tournament on Friday at the South Commons Softball Complex.
A hustle play by senior Danielle Patterson, and a steady play in the field by fellow senior Payton Wilson were two of the big moments for three-time defending Class AAAAA champion, and No. 9 state-ranked Collins Hill.
The Eagles also got a strong pitching outing from sophomore Aeshia Miles to score a 3-2 win over Harrison.
Mill Creek's moment came from junior MacKenzie Fagiloi's three-run home run, which helped turn a two-run, fifth-inning deficit into a 6-3 win over top-ranked Kennesaw Mountain.
Meanwhile, Archer turned to senior Nani Cabrales, who threw a complete game and drove in a run at the plate, while fellow senior Aaliyah Williams had three hits as the No. 2 Tigers downed 10th-ranked Hillgrove 8-2.
As a result, all three local teams advanced in the winner's bracket, which commences today at 9 a.m., with Region 7-AAAAAA rivals Collins Hill (26-8) and Mill Creek (24-13-1) squaring off in one second-round game, while Archer (30-7) takes on No. 5 Lassiter.
"It seems like every year, we drive a long way to play a (region rival like) Mill Creek," joked Collins Hill coach Paul Pierce said. "But I was really proud of our girls for really sticking to their mittens, making plays and just trying to figure out what we needed to do to win a game -- just execute."
The Eagles used their team speed, which put pressure on the Harrison (22-12) defense, to strike for two runs in the bottom of the second.
After Miles was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning, Patterson hustled down the first base line on her chopper to short.
The senior second baseman not only legged out an infield single, but also drew an errant throw that allowed Miles to come all the way home and Patterson to move to third, and put the Eagles up 1-0.
Two outs later, Brea Dickey sped down the line after sending another roller toward the hole between third and short.
The first base umpire initially called the sophomore centerfielder out, but quickly reversed his call, allowing Jaime Hoover to come home with the second run of the inning.
The Eagles pounced on another Harrison error on Jamie Hoover's RBI single, plus a passed ball, to add some insurance to the lead at 3-0.
And that lead was needed after a two-out error opened the door for Harrison in the top of the sixth, which Sierra Maddox took advantage of to pull the Hoyas to within 3-2.
But Wilson made a nice stab on Jessie Giles' hard grounder with the tying run in scoring position to get Collins Hill out of the inning without further damage.
Miles, who gave up five hits and two unearned runs and struck out four over seven innings, pitched around another error in the top of the seventh.
She got help when Patterson snagged Mikenzie Vaughn's looking liner and turned it into a double play to seal the win.
While Collins Hill grabbed its lead early and held on, Mill Creek had to come from behind against Kennesaw Mountain (29-4-2), when Malea Bell hit Heather Felt's first pitch of the game for a long solo homer.
But coach Roger Parham quickly went to the mound to calm not only his pitcher, but the rest of his team.
"There's many times the leadoff player hits a home run, and (the team) may not score again," Parham said. "Heather settled in, controlled the pitch count and threw first-pitch strikes."
The Mustangs actually struck for one more run in the inning to take a 2-0 lead that held up until the bottom of the fifth.
That's when Fagiloi, who finished the game 2-for-3, came up with her clutch moment.
With two outs and runners on second and third, the junior second baseman lined a pitch over the temporary fence in straightaway left to a three-run homer to put the Hawks in front at 3-2.
Mill Creek then added three huge insurance runs an inning later, keyed by Carly Zabow's RBI single, and Felt (11-7) withstood Bell's second homer of the game in the seventh to close out a complete game win in which she scattered six hits and three runs and struck out five.
For Archer, the story was striking early, with the Tigers getting an RBI single by Jacqui Switzer and a bases-loaded walk by Tahra Johnson to take a 3-0 lead in the firset inning.
"That takes a huge weight off you," Archer coach Kristopher Daniels said of the early outburst. "Giving Nani a couple of runs takes a lot of pressure off. It lets you play loose."
Cabrales (21-4), who gave up just five hits and two runs with five strikeouts on the night, kept the Hawks at bay the rest of the way, while getting help from the Tigers' lineup, including two hits and an RBI each from Brittany Marasette and Jenna Graham.