Panthers fall in final four after Red Devils’ game three comeback


Kristen Sherman

Senior Jake Arnold throws a curveball to a Red Devil batter. Arnold pitched a complete game shutout in game one against the Red Devils, striking out five batters in seven innings.

Morgan Evans, Sports Editor

The Starr’s Mill Panthers from region 3-AAAAA went into the best-of-three game series against Loganville, No. 1 seed from region 8-AAAAA, with confidence. The teams matched up on March 3, with the Panthers taking the 4-0 win at Loganville. Not only had the Panthers defeated the Red Devils once before, they also swept their region as well as the first three rounds of the state playoffs.

I felt close to the best I have all year.

— senior Jake Arnold

Starr’s Mill continued their win streak against Loganville after senior Jake Arnold pitched a complete game shutout in game one and earned the 1-0 win. The Panthers’ luck ran out in the next two games, falling 3-1 and 9-3, and ending their chance to play for a state championship.

Game one was a pitcher’s duel for Arnold and Red Devils’ pitcher Joseph Brandon. Arnold was able to hold Loganville despite giving up five hits and two walks. The only Panther run came in the bottom of the second when leadoff batter Arnold reached first on an error, and courtesy runner junior Cole Gilley scored on junior Hayes Heinecke’s sacrifice fly.

“I felt close to the best I have all year,” Arnold said. “I struggled in the beginning of the game, but I finally found my stuff after the third inning. My defense helped me a ton throughout the game.”

Senior Jack Moore took the mound in game two for the Panthers, pitching the bottom of the innings. The Panthers tacked the first run on the board when Gilley bunted a single in the top of the third. Sophomore Brian Port doubled him home and allowed the Panthers to take a 1-0 lead.

The Red Devils quickly came back in the bottom of the third when catcher Morgan Copeland hit a leadoff double. Moore walked Marcellus Campbell and immediately after, Blaine Marchman reached first on a catcher’s interference by junior Charlie Mizzell to load the bases. Aaron Knight and Bay Witcher hit back to back sacrifice flies to score Copeland and Campbell and carry a 2-1 lead into the third.

The Red Devils scored the final run of the game in the bottom of the fourth when leadoff batter Rhett Mixon drew a walk, stole second, reached third on a passed ball, and scored on Justin Moss’ sacrifice fly. Senior Chance Amell took the mound after Moore walked Mixon, but was unable to hold Loganville as they increased their lead to 3-1.

After hitting the triple off the wall, I felt the most excitement…It was an amazing moment for me.

— senior Kyle Evert

The Panthers had a chance to comeback from their two-run deficit in the top of the seventh when Heinecke drew a leadoff walk, Mizzell reached first on an error, and Gilley reached first on a fielder’s choice out at second. Starr’s Mill had runners on first and third with one out, but were unable to rally after seniors Kyle Evert and Drew Pepper struck out back to back. The Panthers did not keep their win streak alive, and forced a game three for the first time in the state playoffs this year.

Game three was played on Thursday night at Panther Stadium with senior Will Evans on the mound. Evans pitched two beautiful innings, sitting down the first six batters in Loganville’s lineup. The Panthers’ showed their appreciation to Evans in the bottom of the second when Heinecke was hit by a pitch and senior Tyler Courtney walked. Junior Nathan Price reached first on an error that scored Heinecke and next batter, Evert, smacked a two-RBI triple to score Courtney and Price. The Panthers led the Red Devils 3-0 after two.

“After hitting the triple off the wall, I felt the most excitement I had all year,” Evert said. “It was an amazing moment for me.”

Starr’s Mill held the lead until the top of the fourth when Knight hit a leadoff single and immediately scored on Witcher’s RBI triple. The next batter, Dylan Strickland, hit an RBI double to score Witcher. Strickland eventually scored on a sacrifice fly, and the Red Devils tied the Panthers, 3-3.

It was a huge responsibility to stop the bleeding during that last ending.

— senior Will Collins

Loganville held the Panthers for the rest of the game, and gave their pitcher, Bryant Pietri, plenty of run support in the top of the seventh. Heinecke took over the mound in the fifth and was able to keep the game tied until the seventh, when he gave up a leadoff double to Copeland. Mixon advanced Copeland’s courtesy runner to third on a bunt and Moss’ sacrifice fly scored the leading run. Shortly after, Campbell singled home Mixon and stole second. Marchman hit an RBI double to score Mixon and Knight followed the trend to score Marchman. Senior Will Collins took the mound after Heinecke walked Witcher.

“It was a huge responsibility to stop the bleeding during that last ending,” Collins said.

Collins needed one out to get out of the inning, and he achieved that, but not before Strickland ripped a two-RBI double to score Knight and Witcher. The Red Devils’ six-run seventh made it impossible for the Panthers to make a comeback, and Loganville defeated Starr’s Mill, 9-3.

“I never thought that game was out of reach,” head coach Brent Moseley said. “Their pitcher did a really good job in the late innings. We struggled when we weren’t able to get hits when we had runners on base”

After losing game three, the Panthers’ season came to an end with an overall record of 32-6, and a postseason record of 7-2. The Loganville Red Devils advance to the state championship to face the No. 1 seed from region 2-AAAAA, Wayne County. The championship games begin May 25 in Savannah, Ga.

“Playing for four years in the program has been great,” Evert said. “The guys playing alongside of me became more than just teammates. We became brothers. We have been through so much together, and the bond between us seniors couldn’t have been stronger. We were in it for each other.”