Lady Panthers fall short in region championship game


Shelby Foster

A Lady Panther player defends a Lady Tiger player. The Starr’s Mill defense struggled to contain Fayette County’s shooters, losing to the Tigers 49-39.

Rilee Stapleton, Editor-in-Chief

The girls basketball program at Starr’s Mill experienced a complete turnaround this season. After going 12-13 last year and missing the state playoffs, the Lady Panthers improved to 19-7 and clinched a home playoff game.

However, with new success comes new goals, and this year’s Lady Panthers had their eyes set on a region championship. The only team in the way was Fayette County, and the Lady Tigers beat Starr’s Mill in all three matchups, including Friday’s region championship game.

Shelby Foster
A Starr’s Mill guard drives past a Tiger defender. The Panthers shot 11 of 33 from the field and 3 of 16 from distance in their loss to Fayette County.

“At the beginning of the year we set a goal for making it to state. I had no idea that we could potentially play for the region championship,” head coach Emily Sweeney said. “I am super proud of the girls for their accomplishments this season.”

The Panthers’ lack of size and poor shooting hurt them against Fayette County. Starr’s Mill was out-shot and out-rebounded throughout the whole game. Sophomore guard Alice Anne Hudson scored 15 points for the Mill. Freshman Ali Rumpel added nine points and five rebounds, while senior Emily Nieuwstraten scored another eight. The Lady Panthers shot 11 of 33 from the field, including 3 of 16 from three-point distance.

The 20-6 Tigers didn’t lose a single region game this year, and they proved themselves to be the top team in the region in their 49-39 win over Starr’s Mill. They connected on three-pointers despite the good defense from the Mill and grabbed offensive rebounds over the smaller Lady Panthers, which allowed easy baskets inside. Fayette County led for most of the game, and didn’t give the Lady Panthers a chance to come back.

“We are really aggressive, but some teams just have more athletic and bigger girls than we have,” Nieuwstraten said.

The first quarter was low scoring as both teams struggled. The Panthers struck first but quickly fell behind. The defensive quarter ended with the Lady Tigers leading 8-5. The offense opened up in the second quarter for Fayette County, and they began to build a lead over Starr’s Mill. Senior Tiger Rikkelle Miller caught fire from behind the arc in the second quarter, and Fayette County led 24-14 at halftime.

The Panthers opened the third quarter with an 8-0 run to bring the score to 24-22. When the momentum seemed to shift toward the Mill, Fayette County struck again. More three-pointers and put-back layups fueled an 11-3 Tiger run and giving them a 35-25 lead going into the fourth quarter.

The fourth quarter summed up what the previous quarters displayed. The Lady Tigers stayed comfortably ahead and captured the region title. Starr’s Mill faced many disadvantages which proved to be too much to overcome. However, the season isn’t over for the Lady Panthers.

“[We] have confidence in each other,” Hudson said. “We want to go far [in the state tournament], so we have our minds set on working on our offense and defense.”

Starr’s Mill will open the AAAAA GHSA State Playoffs at home against Woodland (Stockbridge). The Lady Wolfpack boast an 18-9 record this season, and finished 12-4 in Region 4-AAAAA games. The last time the two teams played was Jan. 5, 2016, with Woodland winning 44-33. This year’s matchup is on Feb. 16 at Starr’s Mill with tip off at 6 p.m.