Panthers clinch top spot in region

Sept.+20%2C+2017+-+Panther+players+surround+home+plate+after+a+seventh+inning+home+run.+Starr%E2%80%99s+Mill+hit+two+home+runs+on+the+night+and+two+in+their+previous+matchup+with+the+Wildcats.

Shelby Foster

Sept. 20, 2017 - Panther players surround home plate after a seventh inning home run. Starr’s Mill hit two home runs on the night and two in their previous matchup with the Wildcats.

Rilee Stapleton and John Webb

Last week was full of region competition, with every game having major implications on the seeding for this week’s region tournament. The Panthers faced Whitewater, McIntosh, and Fayette County, winning all three.

On Sept. 19, Starr’s Mill traveled to Whitewater looking for revenge. The Lady Panthers played most of the game from behind, but a late rally willed them to a 10-6 victory. The following day, they played another road game at McIntosh, winning handily 7-3.

There is a very good possibility that we will see [Whitewater] again in the region tournament finals.”

— head coach Mark Williamson

“We played some good competition leading up to the second game which I believe had us better prepared for Whitewater,” head coach Mark Williamson said. “There is a very good possibility that we will see them again in the region tournament finals.”

The Panthers started off the back to back games by traveling to Whitewater to face the Wildcats. In their last meeting, Starr’s Mill fell to the lady Wildcats in a 10 inning thriller.

Following a scoreless top of the first inning for the visiting Panthers, Whitewater scored a single run and left two runners on base. The second inning saw both offenses struggle to catch a groove, and the score was 1-0 headed into the third inning.

In the top of the third, the Mill put it’s first couple of runs on the scoreboard as junior Kate Ashmore drove in runners on first and third base with a hit over the left fielder’s head.

When Whitewater reached the plate down 2-1, they led off with a double and then followed that with another one to deep left field that drove in the tying run. In the next at bat, a ground out drove the runner to third but the inning was squandered with a line out to the shortstop.

In the fourth, a tied game with two outs saw senior Emily Nieuwstraten hit her second home run of the year against the Wildcats to dead center. Whitewater was unable to respond and went three up three down.

Starr’s Mill’s fifth inning drew flashbacks from the two team’s previous matchup in the year. The Panthers left two runners on base and Whitewater then left one runner on base as another scored on a hit to center field.

Shelby Foster
Sept. 19, 2017 – A Starr’s Mill pitcher throws to a Whitewater opponent. The Mill only had two pitchers throw against Whitewater, and the starter pitched into the sixth inning.

The sixth inning began with a Panther hit to deep center field, and then was followed by a bunt that saw the runner on third base advance to score. The Wildcats came up to bat down 4-3.

Beginning with a double play, the second to last inning did not look promising for the home team. Following an error that allowed a runner on base for Whitewater, the Wildcats hit a line drive double to deep left field that drove in the runner who had previously reached base. Just one at bat later the Panthers would commit another error that cost them a run and a runner on first base. The next at bat saw the Wildcats get a hit to the right field gap to put runners on first and second.

Head coach Williamson then stepped out of the dugout and called for a pitching change, with junior Wakana Sato taking the place of starter Paige Andrews.  The new Panther pitcher gave up one hit on her first at bat but quickly ended the inning with a strikeout. The productive sixth inning saw the wildcats score three runs and regain the lead with a 6-4 scoreline.

In the final inning, Starr’s Mill began with two consecutive runners reaching base. Those at bats were immediately followed up with junior Kate Ashmore hitting a three-run homerun to deep center field. Two passed balls, a triple and three runs scored later and the half-inning ended with a groundout to third.

“We battled back and forth the whole time, so hitting that home run helped the team keep our competitive drive and momentum up to come out with a win,” Ashmore said.

In the home team’s final chance to sweep their region rivals for the regular season, the Panthers made quick work of the Wildcat offensive push and ended the game with a 10-6 lead.

After taking home a crucial regular season win, the Panthers could not celebrate for long as the following day they traveled to McIntosh to play in an equally important matchup.

Unlike the game against Whitewater, the Panther offense put runs on the board early. Senior Jordan Childress laid down a sacrifice bunt that scored two runners, giving Starr’s Mill an early 2-0 lead. In the second inning, the only run scored came on an RBI hit from freshman Lauren Flanders. McIntosh failed to score for the second straight inning.

Lilly Carter
Sept. 20, 2017 – A Panther player awaits a pitch during the game against McIntosh. The Panther bats raked in seven runs in their win over the Chiefs.

In the top of the third inning, the Panthers saw their first three batters retired very quickly. Then, the Chiefs followed up the quick half-inning by scoring a run in the bottom of the third to bring the score to 3-1. However, Nieuwstraten answered with a 2-run home run in the top of the fourth inning to increase the Panther lead to 5-1.

Ashmore and Andrews hit RBI doubles in the sixth inning, but McIntosh followed with two of their own runs in the same inning. With neither team scoring in the seventh, the Panthers took home the 7-3 victory.

“The high emotions of back to back rivalry games is exhausting, but we just had to keep each other up and play fundamentally sound,” Ashmore said.

The Lady Panthers followed up their back-to-back region wins with a 15-6 shellacking of Fayette County. Their win over the Tigers was their fifth in a row, as the team is starting to catch fire as the postseason approaches.

Starr’s Mill wrapped up regular season play with a home game against Riverdale. The Lady Panthers defeated the Lady Raiders 15-0 in a game shortened to three innings due to mercy rule.

The Panthers will host Griffin in their first round matchup. They will play two games on Sept. 27, and one more the next day, if necessary. Whitewater will host McIntosh, and the winners of those two series will play in the region championship next week.

In between the games against Griffin, each Starr’s Mill player will walk onto the field with a teacher, picked by the players, that impacted their life. The team does this as a display of teacher appreciation.