Teamwork helps Panthers advance to elite eight after defeating Kell in two


Kristen Sherman

Senior Jake Arnold gets hype after sliding home. The Panthers defeated Kell in round two of the state playoffs 5-2, in both games of the doubleheader Wednesday.

Morgan Evans, Sports Editor

Round two of the state playoffs were supposed to start on Thursday, but a high chance of rain pushed the doubleheader forward a night. The No. 1 seed from region 3-AAAAA Panthers faced Kell, the No. 3 seed from region 7-AAAAA, in a doubleheader Wednesday night. Starr’s Mill defeated Kell 5-2 in both games and will advance to round three of the state playoffs against Decatur.

Senior Jake Arnold took the mound in game one. Arnold’s pitching was not as impressive as it was against Bainbridge, but he managed to get the job done, pitching five and one-third innings and giving up six hits.

“I felt like I was a little bit off today,” Arnold said. “I didn’t have my best stuff, but I battled through it and made it work as best as possible.”

The top of the first was a little rocky for Arnold, as he hit two back-to-back batsmen, and gave up a single. Arnold managed to get one of his hit-by-pitches out at first with an impressive pickoff. A leadoff groundout and a strikeout helped Arnold out of his first-inning jam.

“The good thing about Jake is even when he’s not his best, he still keeps us in games,” head coach Brent Moseley said.

The bottom of the first started with senior Drew Pepper’s leadoff single. Pepper was tagged out at third and was not able to score. Sophomore Brian Port also singled and scored the Panthers’ first run after senior Tyler Courtney’s RBI double. The Panthers led the Longhorns 1-0 after the first.

Kristen Sherman
Senior Chance Amell looks to throw a strike. Amell earned the win in game one after he pitched one and two-third innings and gave up two walks and a strikeout.

The top of the second was a one-two-three inning for Arnold, as well as the Longhorns’ pitcher Jake Lecroy, who struck out the side. Arnold got into another jam in the top of the third after hitting another batsman, which led to a run from Noah Dawkins’ RBI single. The Panthers could not catch up in the bottom of the third, and the score remained tied 1-1.

Neither team could produce any offense in the fourth and fifth innings. In the top of the sixth, Arnold gave up four consecutive singles and a run, causing Kell to take the lead 2-1. Senior Chance Amell came in to relieve the game and pitched a grounder into a double play to end the sixth.

The Panthers quickly caught up to Kell in the bottom of the sixth after senior Will Evans was hit by a pitch, and immediately after, junior Mitchell Sutton drew a walk. Both runners advanced on a wild pitch with senior Tyler Courtney batting. Courtney hit a sacrifice ground out to score Evans, and tied the game, 2-2. Arnold helped his cause after hitting an RBI double to score Sutton, and scored on next batter junior Hayes Heinecke’s RBI single. Sophomore Hunter Lawson replaced Heinecke as a pinch runner, and was driven in on senior Kyle Evert’s RBI single. Starr’s Mill regained the lead 5-2 after six and went on the win by that score after holding the Longhorns in the seventh.

“It went well,” senior Will Evans said. “The pitching was good and we were able to battle back late in the game to score some runs and get the win.”

The Longhorns acted as the home team in game two with senior Jack Moore taking the mound for the Panthers. Longhorn pitcher Chris Smith and Moore both had three-up three-down innings in the first. It wasn’t until the top of the second when the Panther bats geared up. Arnold hit a leadoff double and immediately scored after Courtney’s RBI triple. Heinecke batted in Courtney right after as he made his way to second. The Panthers led the Longhorns 2-0.

Moore pitched another stellar inning in the second, with three quick outs. The Panthers scored another run in the third after Port’s leadoff single and Arnold’s RBI single. The Panthers increased their lead to 3-0 in the top of the third.

“That’s the best my arm has felt in a couple weeks,” Moore said. “I had good control and I’m glad that it gave us a good chance to win.”

Moore’s one-two-three third and runless fourth kept the Longhorn confidence down until the bottom of the fifth. Moore gave up a leadoff single and was replaced with Heinecke who also gave up an immediate single. Two batters later Brandon Ureke hit another single for Kell to load the bases. Sam Blancato singled in the runner at third and the next batter reached first on an error, which also led Heinecke’s first batter to score. Kell still trailed Starr’s Mill 3-2 after five.

It wasn’t until the top of the seventh when the Panthers scored another run. Sophomore Jake Blinstrub drew a leadoff walk, stole second, and reached third on a passed ball. Port also walked and Evans hit a two-RBI double to score Blinstrub and Port, the Panthers’ final runs. Heinecke held the Longhorns in three easy outs, and the Panthers defeated Kell 5-2, in game two.

“Everybody had a big contribution today,” Moseley said. “It wasn’t just one person that had a great day, it was about eight or nine guys who had big moments. It was a team win for sure.”

Starr’s Mill won the coin toss to clinch home field advantage against Decatur, the No. 1 seed from region 6-AAAAA, in the elite eight. Arnold will likely take the mound in game one of the doubleheader next Wednesday. Game three will be played on Thursday, if necessary.