November brings tip-off for the Panthers

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November brings tip-off for the Panthers

A Panther player looks for an open man to pass to during a scrimmage against Our Lady of Mercy. The Panthers dominated during their 76-46 win over the Bobcats.

A Panther player looks for an open man to pass to during a scrimmage against Our Lady of Mercy. The Panthers dominated during their 76-46 win over the Bobcats.

Aelise Gagliano

A Panther player looks for an open man to pass to during a scrimmage against Our Lady of Mercy. The Panthers dominated during their 76-46 win over the Bobcats.

Aelise Gagliano

Aelise Gagliano

A Panther player looks for an open man to pass to during a scrimmage against Our Lady of Mercy. The Panthers dominated during their 76-46 win over the Bobcats.

Rilee Stapleton and John Webb

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Last season, the Panthers sat one win away from the state playoffs. They were matched up against their cross-town rival, McIntosh, who stood in the way of the Panthers and their playoff aspirations. The Chiefs had beat the Panthers by a combined 40 points in their two previous matchups. Even with a playoff berth on the line, the Panthers suffered a 26-point loss in the region tournament, and their season came to an abrupt end.

“[Now] we’re a year older,” head coach Brandon Hutchins said. “[But] we’re still a young team.”

A Panther player battles for a rebound against the Bobcats. The young Panther roster looks to take Starr’s Mill to the state playoffs after falling one win shy of a postseason spot in last year’s region tournament.

Aelise Gagliano
A Panther player battles for a rebound against the Bobcats. The young Panther roster looks to take Starr’s Mill to the state playoffs after falling one win shy of a postseason spot in last year’s region tournament.

Two players to watch for the Panthers this year are juniors Drew Hudson and Zach Pina. Pina returns for his third year on the Starr’s Mill varsity team, while Hudson will be playing his second season at the top level of high school competition. The duo is surrounded by a similar team as last year’s, after only losing three seniors a season ago.

“Our team has stayed together for the most part,” Pina said. “And we’re excited to see how we can play this season.”

This year, the Panthers are participating in multiple tournaments, including the Christmas tournament in Destin, Florida. Along with the tournaments, the Panthers have a different slew of opponents after their region was restructured in the offseason. However, the Panthers will go head-to-head with McIntosh twice a year.

“Hopefully we beat [McIntosh] twice this year,” Hudson said. “But they’re definitely a good team and we can’t take them lightly.”

After losing only three players a year ago, the Panthers return with another young roster. Along with juniors, Pina and Hudson, Starr’s Mill has the reigning region freshman of the year in now sophomore, Nate Allison. Seniors Kyle Evert, Stephen Peterson, and Nick Karli look to make a trip to the state playoffs in their final season.

“We are definitely expecting to be in the top two or three in the region.” Hudson said.

Despite winning the Director’s Cup, the only teams to not reach the state playoffs last year were boys and girls basketball. However, confidence is high that this year’s Starr’s Mill basketball team will return to the postseason. With a young core, expectations are high for the upperclassmen to stand out as leaders.

A Panther player drives toward the basket during a preseason scrimmage. “We work really well as a team so we are hoping to do really well this year,” Hudson said.

Aelise Gagliano
A Panther player drives toward the basket during a preseason scrimmage. “We work really well as a team, so we are hoping to do really well this year,” Hudson said.

“We rely on Zach [Pina] to get us into our offense and defense and really to be in control on the court,” Hutchins said.

The Panthers opened their season by competing in the Lanier High School Thanksgiving Tournament. They went 1-1 after losing 53-44 to Discovery, but rebounded with a 57-55 win over Lanier. Pina, Hudson, and Karli were the standout players to open the year. Hudson recorded a double-double against Discovery and was just a rebound shy of his second double-double against Lanier. Karli and Pina shined as the top scorers for Starr’s Mill during their first two contests.

The Panthers’ first home game is Dec. 2 against the Newnan Cougars, who hold a 1-3 record. The Panthers are looking to build chemistry that could help them later in the year, while Newnan seeks to prove they are better than their record. Tip off is at 7:30 p.m. at Starr’s Mill.