Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Parkview's Michael Craig (32) and Josh Hart (16) console one another after their 10-0 loss against Milton in game 3 of the Class AAAAAA state baseball semifinals in Lilburn Tuesday.
LILBURN -- For the third straight time in the best-of-three Class AAAAAA state semifinal baseball series between Parkview and Milton, the first inning proved decisive.
Unfortunately for the host Panthers, it was the Eagles who benefited by scoring seven first-inning runs en route to taking the series with a 10-0 win Tuesday at Hugh Buchanan Field.
The early outburst proved to be plenty of support for Alex Schnell (6-0).
The junior left-hander tossed a one-hit shutout with two strikeouts over six innings to pitch Milton (27-8-1) into the title series for the first time since 2004 and end the Panthers' (27-9) two-year reign as champions of the state's largest classification.
"We got outplayed in the first inning," Parkview coach Chan Brown said. "(But) these kids have a lot to be proud of. They've won a lot of games the last three years. Hopefully, they've instilled something into the program that the young kids can take and keep feeding off of for the future."
The first omen that Tuesday wasn't going to be the Panthers' day may have actually occurred a night earlier, when Milton won the coin toss following a split of Monday's doubleheader, giving the Eagles the right to be the home team for Game 3.
Still, it looked like Parkview might be the team to benefit from a big first inning when Schnell issued back-to-back walks to Ryan Blanton and Josh Hart on 10 pitches to lead off the game.
But Dalon Farkas snagged Hunter Thornton's grounder down the third-base line and dove to take out Blanton before he could slide into the bag for the first out of the inning.
Schnell then got Jarrett Hood to rap into a 3-6-3 double play and Milton was suddenly out of the inning with the game still scoreless.
"It's a hard thing ... when you get those first two guys on, and we just couldn't do anything with it," Brown said. "We didn't swing the bat very well the last two games. ... Our hitters got a little tight when we got down so much."
And like Parkview did to them in a similar situation in Game 1 of the series, the Eagles made the Panthers pay for coming up empty when they had a chance to take the early lead.
Milton remained patient against Thornton (0-1), who was making just his second start and third overall mound appearance of the season.
After Ryan Gridley drew a lead-off walk, Sean Ryan Brophy laid down an attempted sacrifice bunt out in front of the mound.
The Panthers had a chance at a force play at second, but the throw pulled shortstop Trevor Brown off the bag and left two runners on with still nobody out.
After a single by Dylan Cease loaded the bases, Thornton began to struggle with his control as the senior right-hander issued a bases-loaded walk to Jack Thompson to put Milton in front 1-0.
He would later hit three batters in the inning -- two with the bases loaded -- and with a single by Erik Petersen and two more errors by the Parkview defense, the inning quickly unraveled for the Panthers
When it was done, the Eagles had sent 13 men to the plate and taken a commanding 7-0 lead.
"We talk about all the time that (failing to capitalize in the first inning) is only bad if you don't learn from it," said Milton coach Joey Ray, whose Eagles will host archrival Roswell in the state finals beginning Saturday. "We told them, 'Guys, you can't get too high and you can't get too low. Let's just learn from it.' And in Game 2 and Game 3, we definitely made some adjustments."
After Milton added an other unearned run in the third -- only two of the eight runs allowed by Thornton were earned -- junior lefty Jordan Kelly came out of the bullpen to throw three shutout innings to give Parkview a chance to come back.
But Schnell would not give the Panthers that opportunity, no-hitting them for the first 5 innings and getting several slick fielding plays behind him by the Milton defense.
"It probably took him a few pitches to kind of get his feet wet," Ray said of Schnell. "After he got that ground ball double play (in the first inning), he settled in and got some runs and did what he's done for us all year -- kept the ball down, move it around a little and let our defense work.
"We built our entire team on pitching and defense and try to get timely hitting. You've got to throw it and go catch it. We've built our team on that, and it's paying off."
The only real thorn in Schnell's side was Hart, who the lefty never did retire and who broke up the no-hitter with two outs in the sixth with a solid single to left.
But even that bright spot was quickly erased when the Georgia Tech-bound speedster attempted to turn the hit into a double, only to be thrown out at second by Brophy to end the inning.
Cease then ended the game on the GHSA's run rule by belting a two-run home run to left in the bottom of the inning.