War in the bubble

Panther soccer splits region-deciding matches against McIntosh


Abby Carter

Senior captain Austin Morris fights McIntosh sophomore Caleb Kreitner for the ball during the Panthers’ rivalry game against the Chiefs last Thursday. Both boys and girls teams played the Chiefs in the tenth annual ‘Battle of the Bubble’ games where the girls fell 4-2, and the boys triumphed in penalty kicks. The boys game remained scoreless all the way through, with senior goalie Andrew Cole racking up six saves. “Any game like this, such high stakes on the line, region championship against the cross-city rivals, everybody wants it so bad and I wanted really really bad,” Cole said. “I gave it everything I had tonight. Super proud of all the boys too.”

Daniel Stackhouse, Sports Editor

Tension, competition, and drama. These are the things evident every time the Battle for the Troops come around. Both girls’ and boys’ games proved that this year was no different. All four teams left everything they had on the field for an amazing set of games prior to spring break.

Sophomore goalkeeper Addison Smith jumps in the air for a save. Despite giving up four goals, including one unfortunate slipup with less than a minute to go, Smith had ten saves out of 14 shots on goal. On the season, she has 27 saves out of 32 shots on goal. (Daniel Stackhouse)

On the girls’ side, McIntosh had the edge. Even though the Lady Panthers fought hard, the Lady Chiefs played a stronger game, going on to win 4-2. For the boys’ game, both teams remained in a scoreless gridlock all the way to penalty kicks, the Panthers winning 5-3.

Not nine minutes into the girls’ game, McIntosh junior Keara Collins drew the first score of the game. Another nine minutes later senior forward Sara Evans scored off of a penalty kick to tie the game 1-1. The score would remain the same going into halftime.

“Frankly, I think we brought a lot more energy than [McIntosh] did,” senior captain Mary Jane Gagliano said. “I think we had high energy, high intensity for 99% of the game, and when we didn’t that’s when they took advantage of us.”

No one else would score until McIntosh Junior Olivia Minor at the 16-minute mark. Another Lady Chief added onto the scoreboard at the 30-minute mark to go up 3-1. Senior forward Chloe Thompson chipped at their lead with a penalty kick with eight and a half minutes to go to make the score 3-2.

However, the Lady Panthers did not get another opportunity to mount a comeback. Despite that, sophomore goalkeeper Addison Smith helped keep the score close with ten saves out of 14 shots on goal. But a mishandle with less than a minute to go drove up the score to end the game with the Lady Chiefs claiming a 4-2 victory and the region 2-AAAAA title.

“[This game] completely drains you, whether you win or lose,” girls head coach John Bowen said. “It’s a draining, emotional, physical battle, and once you get done with it you need a minute [to recoup].”

Shortly after McIntosh honored veterans at the game, the undefeated Panthers and Chiefs teams went toe to toe in one of the best games of the year. One would leave with the region title, the other with their first loss of the season. It started at McIntosh put the pressure on Starr’s Mill early, but their defense and senior goalie Andrew Cole would not budge.

Junior defender Braden Brownell makes his way past McIntosh sophomore Matthew Yi. Even when momentum was on their side, the Panther defense held together against an insistent Chiefs team with loads of talent and pressure. “Every single player on the field and off the field contributed somehow,” boys head coach Aaron Buck said. “That togetherness we have as a team is really taking us a long way,” (Abby Carter)

Starr’s Mill did not give anything up to McIntosh. Slowly but surely, the game became a battle for any momentum and advantage either team could put together. Both teams blazed across the field but to no avail. The first half ultimately ended with the game tied at nil all.

“The idea was that we needed to stop their athleticism, and that we needed to make sure that we played very disciplined,” boys head coach Aaron Buck said. “We did that well enough. Wasn’t our best game, but, you know what? Sometimes it’s okay to be lucky.”

The flow of the game would remain the same in the second half, but the Panthers would slowly pressure McIntosh more and more. At the 26-minute mark, McIntosh scored what looked like to be the goal that would send them off to victory. That is until an offsides penalty was called that took the goal off the board.

Cole fought valiantly all game long, racking up six saves on the day. This includes a clutch save that ended up sending the game to overtime. The game remained scoreless for 80 straight minutes. The tension would continue to grow as the Panthers turned up the heat, but McIntosh would not back down.

“[McIntosh] has a lot of strength going forward,” Cole said. “We’re a really good defensive team, but it just takes a lot of discipline, and doing the simple things in the back to keep them from scoring goals.”

Nobody would score through the first overtime period. McIntosh junior Jackson Johnson was given the chance to win the game off of a penalty kick with one and a half minutes to go. Johnson would miss, and the game would come down to penalty kicks.

Senior Brooklyn Muccillo was up first, making his PK with ease. McIntosh senior Tommy Kim answered with another goal. Senior Jake Eubanks upped the ante with another goal, and senior Pete Millians called with a goal. Sophomore Camilo Velez kept up scored as well. McIntosh sophomore Dru Stanton missed, giving the Panthers an opportunity to make a beeline for victory.

Junior Jacobo Velez scored and so did McIntosh junior Alejandro Vasquez. For the game winner, out came senior Connor Marke, one who is familiar with all-or-nothing game-winners. Marke drilled the final PK to give the Panthers the win 5-3. 

“Best feeling ever,” Marke said. “You always dream of this as a kid. Getting the game winning PK against a county rival? Nothing better.”

Both teams will take a week off in observance of spring break. The Lady Panthers will end region play 5-1 and take the second seed in the region moving into the state playoffs. The boys remain undefeated, ending region play 6-0, and taking the top seed for the state playoffs.

The girls and boys teams will travel to Kathleen, Georgia, to play Veterans on April 13. The girls will play at 6 p.m. and the boys will play at 8 p.m.