Pitching powers Panthers past Gators

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Shelby Foster

Sophomore Daniel Courtney pitches against the Gators. Courtney pitched a complete game and threw five strikeouts in the 3-2 victory in game two. He also went four for four at the plate.

Ben Barkley, Staff Writer

After winning the series against Whitewater to capture their third straight region championship, the Starr’s Mill baseball team started their quest for a state championship against the Ware County High School Gators, the No. 4 seed of region 2-AAAAA.

Game one went down to the wire, but clutch play on the mound allowed the Panthers to capture a 3-2 win in extra innings. Another 3-2 victory followed in game two, giving the Mill the series win.

We thought we were just going to skate through and we didn’t.”

— head coach Brent Moseley

“I’m glad we advanced, but we didn’t play very well,” head coach Brent Moseley said. “We thought we were just going to skate through and we didn’t.”

Both games were won on the mound for the Panthers, as sophomore Eli Jones pitched six innings, threw three strikeouts, and allowed three hits and two earned runs. Game two saw sophomore Daniel Courtney pitch a complete game, throwing five strikeouts, and allowing two earned runs and five hits. Courtney was also good at the plate in game two, going a perfect four of four.

The first two and a half innings of game one started slow for both teams, going three up, three down. Starr’s Mill generated their first dose of offense in the bottom of the third, as sophomore Sean White led off the inning with a double, followed by junior Hunter Lawson hitting a line drive to left for a base hit. With runners on first and third, Courtney grounded out, but not before sophomore pinch runner Nate Kearns got home, making the score 1-0 early.

The Mill started to struggle after that, allowing juniors Trent Thomas and Bryson Wheeler to hit two straight base hits. On the next pitch, Thomas scored off a wild pitch, tying the score at one apiece. The Panthers finished off the inning strong, as freshman Noah Hooks grounded out and senior Drew Johnson was struck out by Jones, keeping the score tied at one.

Shelby Foster
Senior Ryan Henderson attempts to hit the ball. Despite a slow offensive performance, the pitching staff stepped up to keep the Gators at bay and advance the Panthers into the second round of the GHSA State Playoffs.

“We definitely could’ve played a lot better,” Courtney said. “In the end, two wins is all we needed to go on to the next series.”

The next two innings were slow as well, until Starr’s Mill got some offense going once again at the end of the bottom of the fifth. After two quick outs courtesy of Henderson and junior Beau Gardner, junior Noah Preuer hit a line drive to right for a base hit. Sophomore Thad Ector was walked shortly after, followed by senior Brian Port driving Preuer in on an RBI single to retake the lead 2-1 after five.

The sixth inning saw Ware County get back on the scoreboard, as Wheeler led off the inning with a base hit. On the next pitch, sophomore Caleb Stewart drove in Wheeler, but was thrown out at third base, tying the game at two at the halfway mark of the sixth inning.

“We were not doing what we’re capable of doing [on offense],” Henderson said. “We kept on popping up the ball and not hitting line drives.”

No one scored throughout the last inning, which called for extra innings. Sophomore Chay Yeager went three up, three down on the mound to begin the eighth inning.

The Panthers kicked off their half with Port flying out. However, Yeager came to the plate and hit a triple, setting himself up to score. On the next pitch, White drove him in with a base hit, giving Starr’s Mill the game one victory 3-2.

I think it was more what we were doing wrong than what they were doing right.”

— head coach Brent Moseley

“We pitched game one okay,” Moseley said. “I think it was more what we were doing wrong than what they were doing right.”

Starr’s Mill started slow to begin game two, going three up, three down. However, Ware County got the offense rolling. Thomas grounded out, but Wheeler hit a line drive right down the middle for a base hit. Stewart was walked, setting up freshman Noah Hooks’ RBI single to take a quick 1-0 lead at the end of one.

Starr’s Mill answered back. Henderson and Jones grounded out to begin the inning, and Gardner was walked. On the next pitch, Ector hit an RBI single, tying the game. Port flew out after that to end the half of the inning tied.

“We were swinging at bad pitches,” Courtney said. “We were not patient like we normally are.”

Ware County fell silent on offense until the end of the game due to Courtney’s stellar pitching after their quick run to start, giving Starr’s Mill a chance to break the game wide open. The top of the fourth started with Courtney and Henderson each get base hits, followed by Jones flying out, and Gardner hitting a base hit. Ector was then walked, setting Port up for an RBI single to put the Panthers on top 2-1.

The scoring picked back up at the top of the sixth for Starr’s Mill. Henderson struck out to begin the inning, but Jones and Gardner avenged the strikeout with two base hits. Ector was beaned shortly afterwards to load up the bases, and then a wild pitch brought Jones home to increase the Panther lead to 3-1. Port was then walked to reload the bases. However, Yeager hit a groundout double play to end the half of the inning.

“[Courtney] had an excellent performance,” Henderson said. “Probably his best game all season.”

Ware County finally broke the scoring drought in the bottom of the sixth, as Stewart hit a line drive to left center for a base hit, and then stole his way to third base. Hooks and Johnson struck out after that, but sophomore Jett Justice hit an RBI single to reduce the lead to 3-2 at the end of six.

The Mill went three up, three down to kick off the top of the seventh inning. This gave Ware County a chance to capitalize and force a third game.

Sophomore Jordan Aspinwall flew out to start, but junior Jackson Dixon was hit by a pitch, putting him on first. After that, Thomas hit a flyout to center, leaving one out left for Starr’s Mill in order to move on to the next round. Wheeler hit a base hit to put runners on first and third. However, Stewart hit a flyout to left to end the game and the series.

“It’s been pretty good so far,” senior Ryan Henderson said. “Now we’ve got eight days to practice to get ready for round two.”

The Panthers host round two at Starr’s Mill on May 2 against Locust Grove, the No. 2 seed in region 4-AAAAA. In the regular season, the Mill defeated Locust Grove 11-0. Game times are to be determined.