Panthers hit stride in third quarter, drive past Mustangs

Mustang+defenders+swarm+a+Lady+Panther+after+a+rebound.+Morrow%E2%80%99s+size+caused+problems+for+the+Mill+as+they+ended+the+game+with+12+more+rebounds+than+the+home+team.%0A

Katie Linkner

Mustang defenders swarm a Lady Panther after a rebound. Morrow’s size caused problems for the Mill as they ended the game with 12 more rebounds than the home team.

John Webb, Sports co-Editor

In the first game since their back-to-back region rival victories over the weekend, the Lady Panthers hosted a difficult matchup on Tuesday night. Facing the Morrow Mustangs, Starr’s Mill headed into the game with a 15-5 record and a wave of momentum after a three-point win over McIntosh and a 19-point rout of the Whitewater Wildcats.

Katie Linkner
A Starr’s Mill guard takes the ball into the heart of the Morrow defense. The Lady Panthers got their offense going in the third quarter, jumping to a 16-point lead.

With solid second half performances from the sophomore back court of Alice Anne Hudson and Ashtyn Lally, as well as strong defense throughout the game, Starr’s Mill knocked off the Mustangs to gain momentum for their crucial Friday night matchup against Fayette County.

“The team struggled out of the gate,” senior Emily Nieuwstraten said. “We played hard after halftime and figured it out in the third quarter.”

From the tip off, it was clear that Morrow was not an ideal opponent for the Panthers. Although their record sat at 3-15, the team’s size and athleticism was sure to cause the smaller Panthers trouble throughout the night.

Both teams began with very slow starts offensively. The Mustang’s size prevented the Mill from penetrating into the paint and the few shots the home team attempted were mostly low-quality perimeter jump shots that Morrow rebounded quickly. On defense, however, Starr’s Mill responded as they used their quickness and team play to prevent Morrow’s post players from getting quality inside looks. The first quarter ended with a six point lead for Starr’s Mill, 11-5.

“We never quit,” Hudson said. “Whenever we made a mistake, we got the ball back and kept pushing it up the court to try and prevent them from getting in position.”

The second quarter was more of the same. As both teams continued their cold streaks offensively, turnovers and missed opportunities were the staple of the first half. Going into the locker room, the Mill’s leading scorer, senior Emily Nieuwstraten, had five points as the Lady Panthers led 17-11.

“We didn’t do all of the things we needed to do to come out focused,” head coach Emily Sweeney said. “Rebounding has been our issue the entire year.”

[Coach Sweeney] lit a fire under us at halftime and we were forced to come ready to play our style of basketball in the second half.”

— senior Emily Nieuwstraten

After halftime, Starr’s Mill returned to the court with more energy. Although both sides yet again struggled to gain momentum early in the quarter, the Lady Panthers found a rhythm with a little more than five minutes remaining in the third.

“In the second half I approached it as a new game and put 100 percent into the half,” Hudson added. “I focused on driving and passing to my open teammates and trying to finish when I had open shots.”

Morrow’s physical brand of basketball had worn their defense out and Starr’s Mill capitalized on this by utilizing solid ball movement and spreading the floor on the offensive end. Continuing their solid defensive effort, the ball finally started going in for the Lady Panthers and sophomore Alice-Anne Hudson led the offense to an explosive final four minutes. The third quarter ended with Starr’s Mill ahead 35-19.

“We started coming together as a team,” Nieuwstraten said. “[Sweeney] lit a fire under us at halftime and we were forced to come ready to play our style of basketball in the second half.”

Although Starr’s Mill doubled their scoring in the third quarter, freshman forward Ali Rumpel went down with an apparent hamstring injury and had to be taken to the locker room.

“It is going to be a day by day thing,” Sweeney said. “Hopefully it is nothing serious and she will be back for Friday.”

In the fourth quarter, Starr’s Mill again slowed down on offense. The Lady Panthers settled in on defense and focused on not giving up big shots that could allow Morrow to gain momentum and make a run to get back into the game. The game ended with a scoreline of 46-29 in favor of Starr’s Mill, and the Panthers improved to 16-5 on the season, while stretching their current win streak to five games.

“Lately, the third quarter has been rough for us,” Sweeney said. “They came out and got themselves pumped up and finished strong.”

The Lady Panthers next game is on Jan. 26 at Fayette County High School. The Tigers are undefeated in region play and Starr’s Mill is currently 7-1, with their only loss coming in overtime to Fayette County earlier in the month. Tip off is at 7 p.m. and the boys’ varsity game will immediately follow.