Panthers tie school record with 18th win

A+Panther+player+dunks+the+ball+during+the+Panthers+first+round+contest+against+Harris+County.+The+back+and+forth+matchup+resulted+in+a+64-58+win+for+the+Panthers.+

Shelby Foster

A Panther player dunks the ball during the Panthers first round contest against Harris County. The back and forth matchup resulted in a 64-58 win for the Panthers.

Rilee Stapleton, Staff Writer

When the buzzer sounded at the end of Saturday’s state playoff game, the Panthers tied the Starr’s Mill record for wins in a season with 18. Nine of those victories came inside the Panther Pit.  However, the first round 64-58 win over Harris County will be the team’s last home game this season as they will travel to Miller Grove for the second round of the AAAAA GHSA State Playoffs.

“I thought our guys stepped up,” head coach Brandon Hutchins said. “We actually had two starters banged up, so for all the other guys to step up [was] incredible.”

Juniors Requeito Leonard IV and Andrew Grier led the way for the visiting Tigers. Leonard scored 19 points and gathered five steals while Grier scored 20 points on 80 percent shooting. Harris County totaled 14 steals and six blocks in the losing effort.

For the Panthers, junior star point guard Zach Pina played sparingly with an injured knee, and sophomore Julian Lynch was called on to start. Lynch scored eight points in his first start while also making many big plays. Junior Drew Hudson scored 20 points and sophomore Nate Allison added 17 for the Panthers.

[Starting] gave me an opportunity to show that I can play and show off my skills.”

— sophomore Julian Lynch

“[Starting] was life changing almost,” Lynch said. “It gave me an opportunity to show that I can play and show off my skills.”

The Panthers started hot and jumped out to a quick lead, and their fast pace caused the Tigers to run a full court press. On the defensive end, the Panthers contested shots and denied any easy looks for Harris County. The quarter ended one sided, with the Panthers up 15-5.

The second quarter was similar to the first, and the Panthers maintained a lead. Despite forcing multiple turnovers, the Tigers couldn’t claw back. Starr’s Mill continued to play stellar defense while Hudson carried the offense, connecting on multiple three pointers. Going into halftime the Panthers led Harris County 31-15.

“I’ve said all year that we have a deep bench and we have guys that can play,” Hutchins said. “The guys that were called on came in and stepped up.”

Shelby Foster
A Panther Player looks for a teammate to pass to while avoiding a double team. Harris County’s full court press forced 14 steals, but it wasn’t enough to win the game.

The defensive pressure forced by the Tigers started to affect the Panthers in the second half. Turnovers started to shrink the Panthers’ lead, and Harris County started to come back. However, Hudson’s eight points in the quarter prevented a complete collapse. With one quarter to go, the score was 46-35, in the favor of the home team.

The Tigers average the most points during the fourth quarter, and that didn’t change against the Panthers. However, the 23-point quarter wouldn’t be enough to overcome the deficit. The Panthers made 17 of 21 free throws throughout the game, which became crucial during the fourth quarter. The Panthers scored 18 points in the final quarter on their way to a 64-58 victory.

“We gotta learn how to handle pressure, it’s still bothering us,” Hutchins said. “Every team has a weakness and I think that’s our weakness.”

In other region 3-AAAAA games, the region champion Fayette County Tigers won a close match over Bainbridge 68-58 in their first round matchup. Riverdale won their game against Veterans High School 74-65, but Griffin lost their opening contest to Warner Robins 80-53.

Up next for the Panthers is 19-8 Miller Grove, who finished 13-1 in their region. The Wolverines sport a 7-0 home record as they host the Panthers for the second round matchup, who struggled on the road this year, going 2-5. The matchup is on Feb. 23 at Miller Grove High School.