Outside looking in

Whitewater dismantles Lady Panthers in double header with major region implications


Annika Pepper

Junior catcher Ashley Sikes (left) and junior pitcher Lilli Backes (right) converse with each other during game one of their double header at Whitewater versus the Lady Wildcats. In an atypical performance from Starr's Mill, the Lady Panthers staggered and stumbled in a 2-0 sweep. The loss puts them out of the top four teams in the region, putting their postseason contention in jeopardy in what is a new low for Starr’s Mill. Through the double header, Backes gave up 16 runs in an unusual performance from the star pitcher.

Daniel Stackhouse, Sports Editor

An early season upset to McIntosh, a close loss to Northside, and a blowout win over Sandy Creek, steadily set the stage for last Thursday’s double-header versus the region-leading Whitewater Lady Wildcats. As fate would have it, the Lady Panthers hit a new low, getting shutout 13-0 in the first game and losing 7-2 in the second.

Watching the last week or so, we’re not playing at our best right now.”

— head coach Mark Williamson

“I feel like we just haven’t meshed like a team yet,” head coach Mark Williamson said. “Watching the last week or so, we’re not playing at our best right now. Hopefully we can fix that sooner rather than later when it’s too late. Hopefully we can fix it before the region tournament.”

In this matchup, Starr’s Mill faced a team with few to no weaknesses. An inability to adapt to the team’s own weaknesses proved detrimental in both games.

Though the first inning of the first game showed promise, it took the Lady Wildcats only five innings to shutout Starr’s Mill. The Lady Panthers could not get anything going from their hitting core, not even going through their line up twice, while Whitewater went through each batter nearly four times in their 13-run rampage.

Lengthy stints at-bat for Whitewater resulted from Lady Panther fielding mistakes, including three consecutive dropped outs from three different players at the top of the fifth. There was a lack of coherency and chemistry that was uncharacteristic of the Lady Panthers throughout the game.

“People don’t expect the ball to come to them, and I think that’s the first step,” junior Jill Pfister said. “I just think we need to use this [double header] as drive and motivation to get better.”

The Whitewater hitting core showed no remorse against junior Lilli Backes, who pitched all through game one. Despite Backes pitching strongly in the first two innings, giving up only three hits and throwing two strikeouts, the latter innings got worse and worse for Starr’s Mill. In the last three innings, Backes gave up a total of 15 hits.

Junior pitcher Sarah Latham prepares to deliver a pitch. Through the season, she has substituted for Backes, who has seen what may be too much time in the circle. Latham caught an out, but threw zero strikeouts and gave up 10 hits and four runs, including one home run. (Daniel Stackhouse)

Game two started better for the Lady Panthers, scoring two runs during the top half of the first inning. However, they faded out the rest of the game. While the Lady Panthers played better in game one, their persisting flaws remained in this game.

Junior Sarah Latham took control of the circle for the early and latter parts of the game in tandem with Backes who pitched through the middle innings. Backes accounted for three strikeouts, but the Lady Panther bats went cold. The continuation of fielding mistakes kept the flow of the game in Whitewater’s favor.

“We had a lot of mental mistakes,” senior Jolie Lester said. “As a team, we definitely need to work on that. We’ve been struggling a little bit with mental errors. We just need to check in and get everything together again.”

Starr’s Mill (7-7 overall, 3-4 region) are now outside the region’s top four. The double header was uncharacteristic of everything that Lady Panther softball is capable of. In these games they played sloppy and lacked the solidarity and chemistry that has historically made the program perennial contenders for the region title.

However, the talent on their roster is still there. There is talent in the hitting and base running with junior Sydney Blair and seniors Lauren Flanders and Jolie Lester. The defense has proven to get work done with the aforementioned players and junior Kalin Blinstrub.

The pitching, however, raises some eyebrows. Backes has been pitching a lot. Yes, she is an incredibly talented pitcher, but the longer the season has gone, the more inconsistent her pitching has been, possibly due to fatigue.

“We’ve still got some work to do,” Williamson. “I don’t think the girls will quit. They realize we have the potential to be a really strong team.”

The Lady Panthers find themselves on the outside looking in when it comes to region play. Instead of battling for the region’s top seed, the team must shift its focus to securing a decent seed in the region tournament. 

The new phase of the season begins tomorrow when Starr’s Mill hosts Northgate. The last time these two teams faced each other, the Lady Panthers came home from Newnan after a 1-0 victory. The only run of that game coming in the top of first inning. Tomorrow’s game begins at 5:30 p.m.