0

Mill Creek is first GCPS team to reach lacrosse Final Four

HOSCHTON --An early deficit wasn't going to stop the Mill Creek girls lacrosse team from making history.

The sixth-ranked Hawks roared back after falling behind No. 7 West Forsyth on Friday night for a groundbreaking, 17-12 victory to reach the Class AAAAAA state semifinals. Mill Creek is now the first Gwinnett County Public Schools lacrosse program, boys or girls, to reach the Final Four.

"We knew we're the first one to get this far," said Mill Creek's Maddie Beck, who had four goals and three assists. "It feels awesome to just conquer. We've come so far and we've finally built up to this."

The Hawks won their 18th straight game thanks to a decisive, 8-0 run at the end of the first and beginning of the second periods. Down 6-3, they held West Forsyth (16-3) scoreless for 20 minutes, 51 seconds and turned that deficit into an 11-6 lead. The visitors never got closer than four goals the rest of the way.

Mill Creek's historic victory sets up a home game Tuesday against powerhouse Milton, which beat the Hawks 21-3 in last year's second round.

"It's something we're excited about," Mill Creek coach Brian Williamson said of being the first Gwinnett team in the Final Four. "We also wanted the opportunity to play Milton again because they're so good and so stacked with talent. They're ranked 10 or 15 in the country. They beat us down pretty good last year but we're excited about playing them. The game will be here, which we're excited about.

"All of this we've talked about, no team has ever done this before. We're the only (Gwinnett lacrosse and Mill Creek) team left in the playoffs, so it's just exciting all the way around."

Mill Creek (19-1) scored five goals in the last four minutes of the first half, taking an 8-6 edge at the break thanks to a goal as time expired by Beck off an Abigail Fitler assist. Beck, who also had a team-best seven draw controls, scored the final two goals of the first period and two of the first three after halftime, helping the Hawks to their lead.

Tori Windom had a team-high five goals and an assist for Mill Creek and started the 8-0 run with three straight goals. Maddie Peek (four goals), Emily Hallberg (three goals) and Fitler (one goal, two assists) also contributed to the attack. Rachel Gann added an assist in addition to playing a strong game defensively.

But Williamson thought the difference-maker was goalkeeper Jillian Wissel, who made 12 big saves. Several of those were important early ones to keep the match close.

"Our goalie was fantastic," Williamson said. "I thought the goalie made the difference. She made tons of stops. She just had a great game tonight. ... The defense had some breakdowns in the first half but the goalie saved them."

The advantage grew to seven goals twice, including a 16-9 edge after back-to-back goals by Windom --thanks to a hustle play by McKenzie Fagioli to block the goalie's clearance --and Fitler.

West Forsyth got to within 16-12 with 11.3 seconds left, but Hallberg scored with 1.5 seconds left to finish off the big victory, even if it did start off a little shaky.

"(West Forsyth) came out playing really aggressive and we weren't quite used to it," Williamson said. "We haven't played a lot of teams that are that aggressive. ... I think we'll probably play Milton on Tuesday and they'll be unbelievably aggressive. We just slowed down, started winning some draws from the middle.

"The girls played really hard. They never gave up when we got down. We were down 6-3 early and it looked like it might get ugly. But they're resilient. It doesn't matter what happens in the game, they never stop fighting."