Starr’s Mill vs. Arabia Mountain. Experience vs. youth. This game was as advertised — teams making scoring runs, aggressive play on both ends of the court, and a last-second bucket to extend the game. In the end, youth escaped with the win as the Lady Rams defeated the Lady Panthers 57-56 in overtime.
Despite this early exit, no one can overlook what this Lady Panther team has accomplished. A 22-game winning streak, an undefeated regular season region record for the second year in a row, a region championship for the first time in school history. Not to mention multiple individual awards. Senior Alice Anne Hudson won region player of the year, and many players were named to the all-region team.
“They played really hard the whole game,” head coach Emily Sweeney said. “I’m super proud of them for their effort.”
Hudson led the way for the Lady Panthers with 27 points. Sophomore Jaclyn Hester scored 15 points, and senior Ryanne King added nine points. King will now return to the lacrosse field for her final year of Lady Panther lacrosse, where she is one of the best in the state at faceoffs.
“[The seniors] are super special,” Sweeney said. “They’ve made Starr’s Mill basketball what it is today.”
For the Rams, junior Jordyn Ward scored 19 points and freshman Myori Pruitt scored 14 points.
It was a tale of two quarters for the first half. To start, the Lady Panthers went on a 14-0 run to jump to a quick 16-6 lead at the end of the first quarter. However, the Lady Rams went on a run of their own in the second quarter to decrease the Starr’s Mill lead to 20-16. The Lady Panthers bounced back with an 8-0 run to increase their lead to 28-16 at halftime.
“Even without basketball, [the seniors] are the best group of kids I know,” Sweeney said. “I’m gonna miss them tremendously, not even on a basketball level.”
Arabia Mountain regained the momentum to begin the third quarter, shooting the ball lights out and playing intense defense. However, the Lady Panthers did not give up, and kept pace with the Lady Rams throughout the quarter. The Lady Panthers ended the quarter still in control with a 38-34 lead.
Back and forth play continued in the fourth quarter as no team could take a sustained advantage. Arabia Mountain started to pull away, but the Lady Panthers continued to fight. However, Starr’s Mill found themselves down two with 10 seconds left. Hudson shook off two defenders and found Hester wide open in the paint for a layup to tie the game at 49 and force overtime.
People don’t see a lot of overtime in high school basketball, and this overtime put the icing on the cake in one of the best games in all of AAAAA basketball this season.
The final four minutes were fast and furious as neither team wanted to lose. This turned into physical play from both teams, but the Lady Panthers countered Arabia Mountain’s physicality with great defense. This left overtime in a bit of a standstill, until the Lady Rams hit two free throws to go up 57-56 with three seconds to play.
On the inbound, Hudson found King, who missed a mid range shot. Hester came away with the rebound, but her last second layup was blocked, giving the Lady Rams the 57-56 victory.
Arabia Mountain moves on to the Elite Eight to face Woodland, the No. 2 seed from Region 4-AAAAA. The Lady Wolfpack defeated the Jackson Lady Jaguars 59-55 to advance.
For the Lady Panthers, one of the best seasons in school history has come to a close. Highlighted by a 22-game winning streak, a region championship, and Hudson breaking the all-time scoring record, Starr’s Mill has truly had one unforgettable season.