Staff Photo: John Bohn Mill Creek's Brandon Harmon (9) slides safely into third base on a single by teammate Logan Moseley during the fifth inning of Monday's game. Peachtree Ridge third baseman Jonathan Hudson tries to get his glove on the ball.
HOSCHTON -- If the two pitchers who took the mound in Monday's key Region 7-AAAAAA baseball game between Mill Creek and Peachtree Ridge were their respective teams' No. 3 starter, both squads should be well stocked for a deep postseason run with the state playoffs just over a week away.
Both Mill Creek's Jesse Thomas and Peachtree Ridge's Ryne Inman went the distance, but it was the Hawks' right-hander who was just a little better in helping the hosts to a 3-0 win at Fathers Field.
Thomas (3-3) has not been as heralded as Mill Creek's other two starters, fellow right-handers Shane Seckinger and Cody Pugh.
But the 6-foot-2, 210-pound senior needed just 82 pitches to shut out Peachtree Ridge on just four hits with six strikeouts and just one walk as the Hawks (17-6, 11-1), combined with North Gwinnett's loss to Norcross, wrapped up the region's top seed in the state playoffs.
"We were absolutely ecstatic," Mill Creek coach Doug Jones said of Thomas' performance. "I think we've known (how good he is) beforehand. He's had a little tough luck from a run-production standpoint, and a couple games, we didn't play good defense, and it cost him. But without question, he's thrown really good all year. He's pounded the strike zone, he doesn't walk people, and he gives his team a chance to win."
Inman also gave Peachtree Ridge (15-9, 9-3) a chance to win, going six innings and giving up just five hits and three runs and fanning six.
But the 6-4, 205-pound sophomore right-hander fell victim to Mill Creek's speed and aggressiveness on the basepaths, as well as a few well-placed hits.
After Logan Moseley drew a one-out walk and advanced to second on a balk in the bottom of the first, Inman threw a fastball in on the hands of Bryan Hudson, who sent a dribbler down the first-base line.
The Hawks' speedy centerfielder was then able to elude Inman's tag attempt, and then beat his throw to first for an infield hit to put runners on first and third.
Inman then struck out Tyler Boldt, but Andrew Wise sent a pop fly down the right-field line that fell in just fair, allowing both Moseley and Hudson, who had stolen second, to race home and give the Hawks a 2-0 lead.
"We were thrilled with the way Ryne threw," Peachtree Ridge coach Ryan Hanik said. "Unfortunately, Jesse just threw a little bit better. ... Jesse threw well. Tip your cap to him. He commanded the strike zone, and he pitched (Monday) night."
Outside of centerfielder Drew Wharton, who finished the night 3-for-3, Thomas had little trouble with the Lions.
His most difficult inning came in the top of the second after Wharton followed Anthony Perez's single by legging out in infield hit on his grounder in the hole between third and short to put two runners on with just one out.
But Thomas got Blake Best to hit a grounder to second, which Pugh and Moseley turned into a 4-6-3 double play to get Mill Creek out of the inning with the lead still at 2-0.
It was indicative on how strong the defense was on the day, as both teams played errorless ball.
And Thomas gave a lot of credit to his defense's flawless play in giving him added confidence to go out and throw strikes.
"My breaking ball was going good, I was spotting the fastball and the defense was behind me, which was big," Thomas said. "I felt like I was in a nice groove and just throwing strikes, which was the main thing. And it really helps having a defense behind you who can make all the plays."
It also helped Thomas when the Hawks were able to manufacture an insurance run in the fifth, when Brandon Harmon was able to use his speed to score on a sacrifice fly from Boldt that Peachtree Ridge second baseman Steven Tomlinson ran down in fair territory down the right-field line to make the score 3-0.
That was enough for Thomas, who was able to pitch around Wharton's second infield single of the day in the seventh to close out the win for Mill Creek.
In addition from the timely hits from Hudson and Wise, the Hawks also got a hit each from Harmon, Moseley and Tripp Adams, the latter of which was a double.