However the cookie crumbles

Starr’s Mill dismantles Kell in defensive showdown, advances to state tournament


Annika Pepper

Starr’s Mill infield (left to right, juniors Jolie Lester and Lauren Flanders, sophomores Ashley Sikes, Lilli Backes, and Kalin Blinstrub, and senior Paige Andrews) discussing among each other. Starr’s Mill’s defense only gave up a single run across the entire series.

Daniel Stackhouse, Staff Writer

After a sweep against a Thomas County Central, the Starr’s Mill Lady Panthers softball team hosted the Kell Longhorns in the second round of the state playoffs. In two games, Starr’s Mill swept Kell, winning 4-1 and 16-0, and punching their ticket to Columbus, Georgia, for the AAAAA state tournament.

We like leaving teams in the dust.”

— junior Alex Lombardo

Defense was the name of the game. Kell pitchers, senior Mia Diangelis and junior Savannah Markt threw a combined fourteen strikeouts, with Diangelis throwing twelve of those. Kell’s defense only gave up 11 hits prior to the fifth inning of game two. A defensive collapse led to Kell giving up another 11 hits in and 13 runs in the fifth inning alone to help the Panthers close out the series.

Sophomores Lilli Backes and Sarah Latham combined for ten strikeouts. The two only gave up five hits and one run. Despite the lack of offensive production for most of the series, junior Jolie Lester, before the fifth inning of game two, went 3-5 with three RBIs and two runs scored on her own.

“That’s what good teams do,” head coach Mark Williamson said. “You got to take advantage of other team’s mistakes, and that’s what the ladies did tonight.”

Game one of the series began a day late due to a rain delay. Williamson believed that the team benefitted from getting back into the routine of a school day going into the series.

Lilli Backes started in the circle for the Panthers as usual, giving up only a single hit at the top of the first. Junior Lauren Flanders and sophomore Sydney Blair were on base when Lester hit a double two-run RBI to give the Panthers an early lead.

Right off the bat Kell’s fielding struggled, but was redeemed with the pitching provided by senior Mia Diangelis. All three outs of the first inning were strikeouts from Diangelis. Lester was able to steal home plate to bring the lead to 3-0 before the first inning ended.

Annika Pepper
Sophomores Lilli Backes and Kalin Blinstrub about to exchange a handshake. Backes threw seven strikeouts and only gave up three hits and a run in game one.

“[Stepping up for the team] means a lot,” Lester said. “I think next game we should run through [the lineup]. We should manufacture more runs.”

After the first inning, the game remained scoreless. Neither team was able to get anything going for the next three innings. In this period, Backes and Diangelis combined for seven strikeouts, throwing three and four strikeouts, respectively. There was only one double hit given up by Diangelis.

Backes and the Panther defense managed three up, three down at the top of the fifth. Lester capitalized by hitting an RBI to bring Flanders in for another score, before a double play retired the offense again.

Diangelis brought freshman Brooke Smith in off of a sacrificial flyout to chip the Panthers’ lead. As was the tone of the game, Starr’s Mill could not manufacture any more runs at the bottom of the sixth. Fortunately, they did not need to as the Panther defense managed a final three up, three down to end game one with a 4-1 victory.

“I feel like the defense has really helped me, and really backed me up this game,” Backes said. “They have been doing their jobs and it’s helped me out a lot.”

Half an hour later and the two teams were back again for game two. Latham was now in the circle for Starr’s Mill, while Diangelis remained in the circle for Kell. Nobody could get anything started for the first two innings. 

At the top of the third, sophomore Kalin Blinstrub stole all the bases and scored a run due to a combination of a wild pitch and fielding errors. In this inning Kell catcher junior Jodi Inglis suffered a head injury, putting her out to for the night. This led to the Longhorns’ defense being shuffled around for the rest of the game.

Lester scored off of a sacrificial ground out. Junior Alex Lombardo capitalized with a single RBI off of a fielding error. The Panther defensive continued to shut down Kell as they had all game long. Coming to the top of the fifth, the defense had already begun to crumble, so Starr’s Mill took advantage.

“[Leaving them in the dust] was good,” Lombardo said. “We like leaving teams in the dust.”

Three RBIs in a row from Blair, Lester, and Backes went ahead and doubled the Panthers’ lead. After senior Paige Andrews was walked, Diangelis was benched and junior Savannah Markt was sent to the circle.

Lombardo then hit a two-run RBI to widen the lead. A wild pitch from Markt lead to a fielding error brought in senior Reagan Turner to move the lead to 9-0. Blair and Lester hit RBIs again to continue to make the most out of Kell’s collapsing defense.

A walk while the bases were loaded brought Blair in for another score. Lombardo later hit a three-run RBI to run up the lead even further. The offense’s reign of terror would come to an end immediately after, but not after the Panthers accumulated thirteen runs in the fifth inning alone.

I feel like we’ve got a chance to go down [to Columbus] and make some noise.”

— head coach Mark Williamson

“I really think our season has helped us build to this point,” Latham said. “We wouldn’t have been able to [get here] without any of the hardships we’ve faced.”

Four batters later, the fifth inning was over. Leading by such a wide margin, Starr’s Mill ended the game by mercy rule. The Panthers defeated the Longhorns in game two by a score of 16-0. With that, Starr’s Mill wins the series 2-0, winning a spot in the AAAAA state tournament.

Starr’s Mill will begin the tournament against the reigning champion and best program in all of AAAAA softball, Locust Grove. Locust Grove has cruised their way to the state tournament. They faced Loganville this past week in the second round of the playoffs. They swept Loganville 2-0 by scores of 8-2 and 13-1.

“I feel like we’ve got a chance to go down there and make some noise,” Williamson said. “But we’ve gotta play really good ball. [The team’s] gotta click together.”

Starr’s Mill will head to Columbus, Georgia to face off against Locust Grove on Oct. 24. The game is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m.