Varsity Panthers defeat Wolverines in three games to advance to second round


Lilly Carter

Starr’s Mill player takes off from home plate after hitting the ball. The Panthers’ spectacular hitting was a major factor in their 7-0 game one victory.

Ty Odom and John Webb

After finishing first in Region 3 AAAAA, the Starr’s Mill varsity baseball team faced the No. 4 seed Union Grove Wolverines from region 4-AAAAA  in the first round of the state playoffs.

It’s going to be a battle every time we step on the field … Nobody’s going to lay down for us. We have to play at 100 percent.”

— freshman Thad Ector

Starr’s Mill was able to clinch the series due to great hitting that carried over all three games. Spectacular pitching from senior Hayes Heinecke and exceptional hitting from junior Brian Port led to a decisive victory in game one. The Panthers fell short in game two amid a controversial strike call in the seventh inning, setting up a series-clinching game three.

“It’s going to be a battle every time we step on the field,” freshman Thad Ector said. “Nobody’s going to lay down for us. We have to play at 100 percent.”

In game one, Heinecke led the Panther defense while Port led the offensive charge. Heinecke proved to be too much for the Wolverines, allowing only five hits.

The first two innings were uneventful, with both teams going scoreless. However, in the third inning, the Panthers opened the floodgates with a double by Ector followed by a two-run home run by Port. Another two runs were brought home by senior Jake Blinstrub and Ector to give Starr’s Mill a 4-0 lead.

Heinecke continued his tremendous pitching along with great fielding, including a highlight reel-worthy jumping catch by freshman second baseman Chay Yeager and a diving catch by Blinstrub. The Panthers would add two more runs in the sixth inning and one in the seventh to end the game with a 7-0 victory.

“We pitched well and hit well,” Port said. “Overall, we did well [in game one].”

Game two seemed to be going the Panthers’ way early on after an RBI from senior Charlie Mizzell. However, a deep home run by Wolverine catcher Jake Beach turned the tables in Union Grove’s favor.

Lilly Carter
Head coach Brent Moseley argues with an umpire over a call. The Panthers lost game two after a questionable called third strike that gave Union Grove a narrow 6-5 victory and set up a series-clinching game three.

Starr’s Mill was not able to recover even after a Mizzell home run in the seventh inning that brought the Panthers within one run. What followed Mizzell’s home run was a pair of controversial calls that decided the game.

The first call was made when the umpire said that Union Grove’s first baseman had taken his foot off the bag, and the runner was called safe. This sparked a heated exchange with the first base umpire and the Wolverine head coach. The call was final, leaving the Panthers with an opportunity to tie or win the game with only one out.

Wolverine pitcher Jalen Jones struck out both of the following batters to seal the 6-5 game two win, but not without argument.

Blinstrub was called out on the final pitch that was above and outside of the batter’s box, which triggered an argument between the umpires, Blinstrub, and head coach Brent Moseley. The call stood and the stage was set for a game three that would decide who would move on to the second round.

“You can’t take games off in the state playoffs,” Moseley said. “Anything can happen in a Game 3. Our back is against the wall and their back is against the wall.”

The third and final game of the series took place on Saturday, April 28 and would determine who would face off against the winner of Harris County and Ware County.

Union Grove came out of the gates strong in this win-or-go-home game. After quickly loading the bases in the first inning, the Panthers were forced to rely on their pitcher, senior Dawson Sweatt, to shut down the Wolverine offense. After forcing two outs, Sweatt salvaged the inning for Starr’s Mill as the Wolverines grounded out.

We have struggled at the plate at times this year, and putting up six runs to start the game always helps.”

— senior Michael Norton

Starr’s Mill responded immediately with hot bats of their own. Following a lead off walk by freshman Thad Ector, junior Brian Port hit a double to deep left field to put the Panthers up 1-0. Senior Mitchell Sutton then bunted and advanced to second after the first baseman made an error that also allowed Port to score from second. After giving up a walk and another RBI, Union Grove made a pitching change. The change did not phase the Panthers, as they would add three more runs and finish the inning up 6-0.

“It is always nice to start out a game hitting well,” senior Michael Norton said. “We have struggled at the plate at times this year, and putting up six runs to start the game always helps.”

In the top of the second, the Wolverines led off with a double to left field. The runner would score after a ground out advanced him to third and an error the following at bat allowed him to cross home plate. The half inning ended with the Panthers in the lead 6-1 after a ground out to first base.

Starr’s Mill’s success at the plate would grind to a stop, as the Panthers would score no runs in the bottom of the second inning while grounding out twice as well as giving up a strikeout.

The third inning saw the Panther defense shine as Sweatt struck out the first two batters of the side. After the next batter hit a single past the second baseman, the final Wolverine out of the came off a ground ball to Port who played the force out at second.

Freshman Daniel Courtney led off the bottom of the third with a single to left field, and then stole second base during the next at bat. With Courtney on second, freshman Nate Kearns sacrifice bunted to advance the runner to third. Ector walked next to place runners on first and third, and Port hit a sacrifice fly ball to left field that allowed Courtney to score. The inning would end after a Panther strike out on the next at bat.

I think all of the freshman who started had good games.”

— head coach Brent Moseley

“I think all of the freshman who started had good games,” head coach Brent Moseley said.

With two outs and the bases loaded thanks to a walk and a hit to center field, Union Grove scored their second run of the day after an error at first base for the Panthers. The next at bat saw the Wolverines drive in three more runs off of a hit to right field, and the inning ended after a strikeout with Starr’s Mill’s lead down to only two runs, 7-5.

“I think we sort of relaxed after we got the big lead,” Moseley said. “That is not what we want to do.”

Senior Charlie Mizzell led off the bottom of the fourth with a fly out to the second baseman, and senior Hayes Heineke would be the only runner of the inning to score following a throwing error at first off of a Sweatt infield hit.

Union Grove would go three up, three down in the top of the fifth to bring Starr’s Mill up to bat again while leading by three runs. The Panthers followed suit with the Wolverines by going three up, three down and ending the fifth with no hits for either side.

“We did not hit very consistently throughout the whole series,” Mizzell said. “Hopefully next week we are able to focus and get our bats working each game.”

The cold streak of hitting continued for Union Grove in the top of the sixth inning, and Starr’s Mill made sure to take advantage of their opportunity to extend the lead even further. After a walk to lead off the Panthers, a sacrifice bunt placed Sutton on second base with Heineke up to bat. A double to right field drove in Sutton and brought senior Nathan Price to the plate. Price smashed a home run to place the Panthers up 11-5 with just one out. The inning ended with three runners stranded on base for Starr’s Mill after pitching troubles hurt the Wolverines following the home run.

In their final appearance at the plate, Union Grove managed to score two runs due to an error and fatigue of Starr’s Mill’s starting pitcher, but the Wolverines could not put together enough to force the game into the bottom of the seventh inning.

With Starr’s Mill’s 11-7 game three victory, the Panthers advanced to the second round of the state playoffs. As the No. 1 seed, they will host the next best of three series next week against the Harris County Tigers.