Strong second half sends Panthers home victorious

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Shelby Foster

Panther player fends off a Chief defender while looking for a teammate to pass to. The Panthers balanced offensive attack proved to be too much for McIntosh, and the Mill defeated their rival 15-7. The win improved their record to 9-5 on the season. However, they lost the following two games, resulting in a 9-7 regular season record.

Rilee Stapleton, Editor-in-Chief

After a close, back-and-forth first half, the Starr’s Mill lacrosse team dominated the McIntosh Chiefs in the two final quarters to clinch the No. 2 seed in the A-AAAAA GHSA State Playoffs. A multitude of Panthers scored, resulting in a 15-7 victory.

Once we calmed down, we started dominating.”

— head coach Jeff Schmidlkofer

“We lost our composure a little bit,” head coach Jeff Schmidlkofer said. “Once we calmed down, we started dominating.”

Six different Panthers scored the first six goals for the Mill, and sophomore Gabe Lopez led all scorers with two goals. Junior Garrett Meuninck controlled the faceoffs, giving Starr’s Mill more offensive opportunities. After adjustments at halftime, the Panther defense shut down the Chiefs offense.

Senior Logan Sandal and junior Jabari Holifield were among the goal scorers for McIntosh, but the Chiefs ultimately lacked the offensive firepower to compete with the Mill. Despite many saves from the goalie and other defensive stops, McIntosh couldn’t keep possession away from the Panthers.

Shelby Foster
Junior Eric Fewell defends junior Chief Jabari Holifield. The Starr’s Mill defense locked down McIntosh in the second half, only allowing one goal. The Panther offense scored nine goals in the half, leading to the Mill clinching a home playoff game in the first round.

“We know we have 10 players who can all score,” junior Addison Long said. “We can all score, which is really good.”

Sophomore Cole Bishop opened the scoring just three minutes into the game to put Starr’s Mill up 1-0. Two minutes later, McIntosh answered and tied the game. Senior Jacob Zellen, Lopez, and junior Karsen Kalen then fired off three consecutive goals, giving the Mill a 4-1 lead. During the final minute of the quarter, the Chiefs scored to cut the lead to just two goals going into the second quarter.

Sophomore Luke Rusterucci began the second quarter with a shot into the back of the net, but McIntosh responded with a run of their own. Three straight goals tied the game at 5-5. Long then snapped the Chiefs’ momentum with a strike in the final two minutes of the half, making the score 6-5 at halftime.

“After halftime we realized we had the speed to go at them and we came out hot,” Zellen said.

Halftime proved to be crucial for Starr’s Mill, as the defense came back onto the field rejuvenated.

After giving up one quick goal, the defense locked in and prevented any opportunities for the Chiefs.

Lopez, along with junior Christian Sparkman and senior Reid Harrison, capitalized on offense. They each scored during a 3-0 Panther run, increasing their lead to 9-6. McIntosh answered with a goal with only 12 seconds remaining in the quarter, but Meuninck won the ensuing faceoff and scored before the buzzer sounded.

Leading 10-7 at the beginning of the fourth, the Panthers kept their foot on the gas.

Harrison scored once more and Bishop and Lopez each scored during a 5-0 run for the Panthers. The final goal of the run was scored by senior Adam Bennett, who struck with just 1:20 remaining in the game. The Panthers ran out the rest of the clock, and captured their 15-7 win over their top rival.

“[This win] was really big because now we play our first playoff game at home, which is really important,” Zellen said.

The team followed up the win with back-to-back losses to Lassiter and Centennial 15-5 and 14-9, respectively.

They will face off against Whitewater in the opening round of the state playoffs. The Wildcats are 3-11 this season, and fell to Starr’s Mill 16-1 earlier in the year. Starr’s Mill is 13-1 all time against Whitewater, with 13 consecutive wins.

The game is at 7:45 p.m. on May 1 in Panther Stadium.