‘Starr’ offense dominates Bearcats, Panthers advance in state playoffs

Senior+Tyler+Courtney+scores+another+run+for+the+Panthers.+Starr%E2%80%99s+Mill+defeated+Bainbridge+16-1+and+9-4+in+a+doubleheader+and+will+move+on+to+round+two+of+the+state+playoffs+against+Kell.

Kristen Sherman

Senior Tyler Courtney scores another run for the Panthers. Starr’s Mill defeated Bainbridge 16-1 and 9-4 in a doubleheader and will move on to round two of the state playoffs against Kell.

Morgan Evans, Sports Editor

Coming off their first region sweep since 2006 and a week’s rest since their split series against Harris County, Starr’s Mill of region three, seed one played the Bainbridge Bearcats from region one, seed four in a doubleheader Friday night at Panther Stadium. The game marked the first round of the AAAAA Georgia High School Association State Playoffs. Starr’s Mill defeated the Bearcats in both games of the doubleheader, and will advance to round two.

Senior Jake Arnold took the mound for the Panthers in game one, and pitched a stellar performance only giving up three hits and one earned run in four innings.

Although Arnold pitched a gem, the Panther offense was the real “starr” of the game. The Starr’s Mill lineup had a combined 15 hits and 16 runs and defeated the Bearcats 16-1 in a four inning mercy rule.

“My pitching felt good,” Arnold said. “I wish I hadn’t given up those three easy hits, but I got runs backed up behind me and it was a quick four inning game.”

It was good offense…We hit the ball hard.”

— head coach Brent Moseley

The only Bainbridge run came in the top of the first when senior Carson Inlow hit a leadoff double and scored on senior Keith Lyle’s ground out. The bottom of the first was just a warmup for the Panther offense. Senior Drew Pepper hit a leadoff infield single and sophomore Brian Port reached first on a fielder’s choice error. Three batters later, senior Tyler Courtney drove Pepper home with an RBI single. Junior Cole Gilley hit a sacrifice fly to score Port and the Panthers led the Bearcats 2-1 after the first.

The bottom of the second was the Panthers’ biggest inning after tacking on seven more runs to the board. Arnold drew a leadoff walk and eventually scored after Pepper singled and advanced to third due to an error and a passed ball. Port drove home Pepper with a single, increasing the Panther lead, 4-1. Senior Will Evans hit a single and scored along with Port after junior Mitchell Sutton’s two-RBI single. Two batters later, Gilley singled and advanced Sutton to third. Junior first baseman Hayes Heinecke drove home Sutton and Gilley with a two-RBI double and scored after Arnold’s second at bat of the inning: an RBI double. The Panthers led the Bearcats 9-1 after the bottom of the second.

“It was good offense,” head coach Brent Moseley said. “We hit the ball hard. In bad times [Bainbridge] made an error here and there and it just spiraled out of control.”

Kristen Sherman
Sophomore Brian Port leads off first base, with senior Drew Pepper leading off second. Game one saw the Panthers defeat the Bainbridge Bearcats 16-1 in the fourth inning with the game being called on account of the mercy rule.

In the bottom of the third, Evans singled and made it to second after another Bearcat passed ball. Sutton and Courtney drew back to back walks and Gilley hit a single to score Evans. The last run of the inning came from Sutton after Bainbridge sophomore Cayden Sconyers balked. Starr’s Mill increased their lead to 11-1.

Arnold hit an infield single to start the bottom of the fourth and scored after senior Kyle Evert singled him in. Port hit the third single in a row in the fourth and Evans followed the trend, driving home Evert. Sutton also hit an RBI single and scored Port. Courtney drew his second walk of the game and loaded the bases. Freshman Kaleb Varnum sent Gilley to first after another base on balls and scored Evans with no room on the bases. Pinch-hitting junior Nathan Price hit an RBI single to score Sutton and the Panthers ended the game in a 15-run mercy rule, defeating the Bearcats 16-1 in game one.

“I knew we were gonna play [well],” Moseley said. “We had a great, great week of practice. We had four awesome days of practice, so I knew we were gonna play well.”

Starr’s Mill and Bainbridge switched sides in game two, giving the Bearcats a chance to bat last, but that did not stop the Panthers from dominating the top of the first.

Sophomore Nick Barber took the mound for the Bearcats and started the inning sending Pepper and Port to first base after two hit-by-pitches. Evans bunted in Pepper and right after, Sutton did the same with Port. Courtney followed the trend with a bunt to load the bases, and Gilley singled Evans home. Two batters later, Arnold hit a two-run RBI single to send home Sutton and Courtney, and after the top of the first the Panthers led the Bearcats 5-0.

Heinecke took the mound for the Panthers and gave up a triple to the second batter of the Bearcats’ lineup. Two batters later junior Will Kelley hit an RBI single to score senior Noah Bryant from third. Heinecke only gave up one run in the first, and the Bearcats still trailed the Panthers 5-1.

Both the top and the bottom of the second were three-up three-down innings for the lefty pitchers, but in the top of the third, Heinecke helped his cause when he doubled to send home Gilley after his leadoff walk. In the bottom of the third Heinecke gave up another run when Bryant singled and was driven home by Lyle from his RBI double. The Panthers still led the Bearcats after three, with a score of 6-2.

In the top of the fifth Arnold hit a leadoff double and advanced to third on Evert’s sac bunt. While Pepper was up to bat, Arnold scored on a wild pitch that also advanced Evert to second. Pepper drew a walk and two batters later, Evans hit a two-RBI double, sending home Evert and Pepper. The Panthers’ four-run fifth increased their lead on the Bearcats, 9-2.

“I got down in some counts and gave up some hits I shouldn’t have,” Heinecke said. “Defense is always good. I was able to go deep into the game and give my offense a shot of winning.”

The Panthers were on their way to defeating the Bearcats 9-2 in the bottom of the seventh when senior Will Collins took the mound. Collins struggled giving up singles to all three batters he faced, as well as an earned run. Senior Chance Amell got the call to the bullpen and saved the game, but not after Bryant’s sacrifice fly to score one of Collins’ runners. Even after a rocky seventh, the Panthers took game two from the Bearcats with a final score of 9-4, eliminating the visiting team from the state playoffs.

“I’m actually really excited,” Heinecke said. “We’ve been hitting the ball really well and pitching it really well. This just goes to show that we aren’t overrated.”

Next up for the Panthers is another best-of-three game series at home against Kell, the No. 3 seed from Region 7, on May 3. Kell defeated Chamblee, the No. 2 seed from Region 5, 14-0 and 11-3 in round one of the state playoffs. Arnold will take the mound for the Panthers in game one of round two with first pitch at 4 p.m.

“Next week we have to play Kell and I think they’re a much better team [than Bainbridge], but I think we’re still a favorite in that series,” Arnold said.