Bittersweet defeat

Starr’s Mill Softball underperforms against Whitewater, remains region top seed


Annika Pepper

Junior Madilyn Cochran lined up on first base after a single hit. Cochran contributed two runs and a hit to the Wildcat offense.

The games between region front-runners Starr’s Mill and Whitewater during the regular season were expected to be tight contests. However, their matchups so far have been anything but close.

Back in late August, the Panthers went to Whitewater and proceeded to dominate the Wildcats with a commanding 13-1 victory. After that, Starr’s Mill continued on their win streak, staying on top of the region. On Tuesday, Whitewater came into Panther territory knowing they had to claw their way to the top of the region.

Annika Pepper
Senior Paige Andrews exits the game as sophomore Lilli Backes prepares to take the mound. Andrews struggled in her five innings of play, giving up seven runs and only managing one strikeout.

Starr’s Mill made many mistakes on both offense and defense, and Whitewater capitalized. The Wildcats ultimately proved they were dedicated to make their case for the region top seed in a 7-0 victory.

We got to come out and play better next time,” head coach Mark Williamson said. “Tip your hat to them. They came out and played well.”

This game was only the third time in the regular season that Starr’s Mill was shutout. This loss does not characterize Starr’s Mill as they are still in control in the race for the region’s top seed.

Prior to this matchup, Starr’s Mill hosted McIntosh, another difficult rival, the day before. The Panthers won that game 3-2. It was a curiosity that playing two big region games back-to-back had any influence on the team’s mindset.

“I think we knew what was expected of the team and we didn’t step up, that happens,” junior Alex Lombardo said.

To begin the game, senior Paige Andrews stepped up to the mound in accordance with the team’s regular rotation between her and sophomore Lilli Backes, who threw 18 strikeouts in their McIntosh victory the day prior.

After a flyout from Whitewater sophomore Amiah Ricksl, the Wildcats began to strike fast and furiously. Andrews hit senior Jillian Williams, and then gave up a single hit to senior Alexis Larrow. With Williams on first and Larrow on second, junior Makenzie Byrom hit a double, bringing Williams home. 

Junior Madilyn Cochran continued to pile up damage with another double hit, bringing Larrow and Byrom home. After multiple attempts throughout the inning, the Wildcats managed to bring in another run by the end of the top of the first, going through their entire lineup. Whitewater started the game with a 4-0 lead.

“[Andrews] wasn’t hitting all her spots,” Williamson said. “We could have made one or two plays, and we didn’t. That would have helped out.”

Junior Emma Vessell stepped up to the mound to pitch for Whitewater. Junior Lauren Flanders led off for the Panthers in the bottom of the first. She took advantage of a fielding error to get to first base. With sophomore Sydney Blair up, Flanders stole second base, and the pitcher walked Blair.

Tip your hat to [Whitewater]. They came out and played well.”

— head coach Mark Williamson

After junior Jolie Lester hit a groundout, Backes hit another groundout, but was able to get Flanders to third and Blair to second. Andrews was then hit by a pitch, loading the bases.

Sophomore Ashley Sikes was not able to capitalize and was struck out, ending the first inning.

“I think it was because of a lack of communication on some of [our mistakes],” Flanders said.

At the top of the second, Ricks hit a flyout and Williams hit a groundout. While Larrow was able to hit a single, Byrom immediately hit a flyout to Flanders. Whitewater was retired without being able to produce anymore on offense.

There were attempts to score on run for both teams, but neither team was able to bring anybody home. The second inning came and went with the score still 4-0 Whitewater.

In the top of the third inning, Cochran hit a single, then Andrews struck out Vessell for her first strikeout of the game. Afterward, senior Alexys Buffington hit a groundout, but brought Cochran to second base.

“I don’t know if we came out nervous, or if we came out flat,” Williamson said. “I don’t know what the problem was, but we’ll fix it.”

Junior Lily Griffith hit the ball between first and second, where multiple fielders tried to get the ball to get an out. However, Griffith was able to get to first base before a fielder got to the base.

With freshman Makayla Coffield up at the plate, Andrews mistakenly pitched the ball where catcher Lombardo could not manage the ball. This error led to Cochran and Griffith scoring two runs for the Wildcats. 

After Coffield was out at second, the top of the third ended with Whitewater increasing their lead to 6-0.

“I think we just have to trust each other,” Lombardo said. “Playing as a team is what’s going to help us win games. One person can’t handle the pressure, but we use that pleasure as a privilege.”

The bottom of the third was brief. Latham was struck out, and Lester and Backes hit groundouts. The third inning ends with the Panthers remaining scoreless.

Annika Pepper
Sophomore Sarah Latham slides into third base. Latham’s base running helped give the Panthers an opportunity to get on the board.

Nearing the halfway mark of the game, Whitewater continued to cause frustration for Starr’s Mill. Ricks hit a single because of a Flanders error. On Williams’ next at bat, Ricks stole second, and Williams then hit a single, bringing Ricks to third. 

After that pitch, Andrews was retired and subbed in with Backes. Andrews would play first base for the rest of the night.

“I’m sure she’ll be fine,” Williamson said. “We all have tough outings.”

Williams stole second during Larrow’s at bat. A Backes pitching error led to Williams stealing third, and Ricks coming home for another Wildcats run. Larrow was then walked. After a steal to get into scoring position, Byrom was struck out, ending the top of the fifth with a score of 7-0 Whitewater.

The rest of the game was quiet. There were two hits in the fifth inning, but none in the sixth and seventh. Starr’s Mill had a few errors on defense, but they were not severe enough for Whitewater to inflict further damage. Flanders hit a groundout to end the game with a final score of 7-0 Whitewater.

With this loss, Whitewater evened out their region record with Starr’s Mill. Not only are they 1-1 head to head, but they were both 9-1 after this game. However, Starr’s Mill still retains the top seed due to run differential in the two games these teams have played.

“I’m excited [for upcoming games],” Flanders said. “We’re just ready to play again.”

Starr’s Mill is looking to play for Whitewater for the region championship. Despite this bad loss, the Panthers are still in control of their own destiny, and has the team to take the reins. 

After being shutout against Whitewater, Starr’s Mill produced two shutouts of their own, beating Newnan 10-0 on Wednesday, and Fayette County 15-0 on Thursday.

Starr’s Mill will head to Riverdale to close out the regular season against Riverdale on Sept. 23. The game is set to begin at 5:30 p.m.