Panthers thrash Wildcats, secure region title

Senior+Ryan+Henderson+attempts+to+catch+a+runner+stealing.+The+Panther+defense+played+tremendously+in+the+final+two+games+of+the+series%2C+only+allowing+two+combined+runs.
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Panthers thrash Wildcats, secure region title

Senior Ryan Henderson attempts to catch a runner stealing. The Panther defense played tremendously in the final two games of the series, only allowing two combined runs.

Senior Ryan Henderson attempts to catch a runner stealing. The Panther defense played tremendously in the final two games of the series, only allowing two combined runs.

Alyson Phinney

Senior Ryan Henderson attempts to catch a runner stealing. The Panther defense played tremendously in the final two games of the series, only allowing two combined runs.

Alyson Phinney

Alyson Phinney

Senior Ryan Henderson attempts to catch a runner stealing. The Panther defense played tremendously in the final two games of the series, only allowing two combined runs.

Ty Odom, Staff Writer

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After failing to capture the Region 3-AAAAA championship in the first game of their series against the Whitewater Wildcats, the varsity Panther baseball team came back with a vengeance on Wednesday and Thursday.

Starr’s Mill mercy ruled the Wildcats 13-0 at Whitewater, then returned home to finish the regular season with a 3-2 win.

Alyson Phinney
Head coach Brent Moseley talks with the Starr’s Mill infielders. The infield was the driving force behind the Panthers’ stellar defense. They minimized errors and prevented the Wildcats from going on large scoring runs.

In the two games, sophomore Thad Ector led the Panthers offensively with five RBIs, and sophomore Sean White had a solid outing on the mound.

“We came out with an edge,” head coach Brent Moseley said. “We played a lot harder, we were more enthusiastic, and we had more energy.”

In the first inning of Game 2, the Panthers started strong, consistently making contact and getting on base early. The great hitting continued later in the lineup, and by the third out, Starr’s Mill held a 5-0 lead over Whitewater. The Panthers continued their dominant play on defense, quickly ending the opening inning of play without allowing any hits.

Panther momentum slowed down a bit in the top of the second inning, only scoring one run courtesy of an RBI by junior Hunter Lawson. However, it was on defense where Starr’s Mill made an impact. Due to solid fielding, sophomore pitcher Daniel Courtney only faced four batters. After allowing a double, the next three batters were caught out on pop flies or thrown out at first base. At the end of the second, the score was 6-0 in favor of the Panthers.

“We played with a chip on our shoulders,” Ector said. “We wanted this region championship.”

Starr’s Mill picked up the pace again in the third inning, starting with a base hit by junior Noah Preuer. Ector continued the strong hitting performance with a triple that brought home two runs, and senior Brian Port followed with a base hit.

Sophomore Chay Yeager was unable to keep the hitting streak alive, striking out for the first out of the inning, but Port was able to steal second base during Yeager’s at bat. White brought Port home with a double for the third run scored in the third inning.

Alyson Phinney
Sophomore Chay Yeager takes a swing. Starr’s Mill showed out on offense, consistently making contact and getting on base. The Panthers tallied 14 RBIs in their last two games of the regular season.

After another strikeout, Lawson hit a sacrifice bunt, but an infield error allowed him to advance to third base and bring in another run.

After sophomore Cole Sanders was thrown out at first, the side was retired. The Panthers quickly finished the inning on defense with three outs in a row, ending the third with a 10-0 lead.

The fourth inning saw the Panthers continue their stellar hitting display. Junior Beau Gardner led off with a base hit, followed by a Preuer pop out that advanced Gardner to second base. Ector brought Gardner home with a triple for the first run of the inning.

After Ector’s triple, Port was walked during his next at bat, and a pop fly hit by Yeager was caught, Ector scored from third base, then White drove in another base hit for the third and final RBI. The side was retired when Courtney was thrown out at first base.

On defense, the Panthers allowed the first two Wildcat batters to get on base, but a double play and a tag out brought the fourth inning to a close, with Starr’s Mill up 13-0.

The fifth inning was the only scoreless inning of the game for the Panthers. After a double by Lawson and a dead ball by senior Ryan Henderson, a double play and a strikeout spelled the end of the top of the fifth inning.

The Panthers only faced three batters in the bottom of the fifth inning, the first batter was walked, but was forced out at second after a base hit. Starr’s Mill sealed the win with a double play.

With the win, the Panthers were crowned region 3-AAAAA champions for the third year in a row, securing a No. 1 seed in the playoffs.

“It’s always better to play at home,” Moseley said. “The longer you can stay at home, the better.”

In the final game of the series, the Panthers were engaged in a back and forth battle with the Wildcats, which ended 3-2 in the Mill’s favor. The game was decided on the defensive end, as an infield error by Whitewater on a ground ball hit by Henderson led to a walk-off RBI in the eighth inning to finish off the regular season.

“I didn’t focus on trying to hit [the ball] over the fence,” Henderson said. “I was just trying to make contact and move runners over.”

The Panthers will play at home against Ware County in the first round of the playoffs. The Gators finished with a 7-22 overall record and a 3-9 region record, good enough for fourth in Region 2-AAAAA. The first round double-header is scheduled for 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. on April 24 at Starr’s Mill.

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