Destiny has arrived

Senior-led baseball team wins first state championship in program history


Annika Pepper

Seniors Ryder Wagenknecht (left) and Chay Yeager (right) celebrate atop a dogpile at the end of the AAAAA state championship game against the Loganville Red Devils. Against a Loganville team vying for their fourth consecutive state title, the Panthers outplayed the Red Devils in two tight games to sweep Loganville 1-0 and 4-2 to win the state championship. This win was the first time Starr’s Mill has ever won the state championship. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been wanting one of these,” Yeager said. “We’ve earned it.” Next year, Wagenknecht will play at Flagler College and Yeager will play at Wofford College.

For many, a state championship is a dream. For the Panther baseball team, it was the goal. From seniors pushing for a ring on their last ride, to a head coach that had been yearning to win his first, the 2021 Starr’s Mill team spent the entire year pursuing destiny.

I never dreamed that we’d go two games, throw two pitchers and win it. Our pitching was just so good, we just needed to score a little bit.

— head coach Brent Moseley

On Tuesday, Starr’s Mill traveled to Truist Park for the AAAAA state championship game against the Loganville Red Devils, who were seeking their fourth consecutive state title. The Panthers swept the Red Devils in two grueling games to win the AAAAA state championship. This was the first baseball state championship in school history.

Senior leadoff Thad Ector led the way with three hits, two runs scored, and an RBI. Senior infielder and pitcher Chay Yeager had two hits and two runs, and senior infielder Eli Jones had two runs and an RBI. The team as a whole combined for six runs on 11 hits and a total batting average of 0.220.

“It was a little different, because our pitching was just totally dominant,” head coach Brent Moseley said. “We didn’t have to score much, obviously… I never dreamed that we’d go two games, throw two pitchers and win it. Our pitching was just so good, we just needed to score a little bit.”

What helped put Starr’s Mill over the edge was phenomenal pitching from Yeager and senior pitcher Daniel Courtney, who pitched complete games in games one and two, respectively. They combined for 15 strikeouts in 14 innings and an ERA of 1.00.

“It was insane [pitching on the mound at Truist Park]. It was unreal,” Yeager said. “The feeling of being on a Major League mound and all the stands around me was insane.”

Heading to Truist Park, the players were amazed and in awe of the ballpark they would be playing in. However, they knew the goal was the same — stay mentally on point and win. Even against a great Loganville program, all they needed was their game to triumph.

Senior outfielder Thad Ector rounds first base. In the bottom of the third inning in game one, Ector batted in sophomore third baseman Evan Harrah from first base for the first and only score of game one, propelling the Panthers to a 1-0 victory. “I made a commitment to come here when I was in eighth grade… I bought into the program and I just tried to work as hard as I could to be in this position,” Ector said. “It was our senior year and we had planned to win the state championship our senior year and it just worked out this way with this group of guys, and I wouldn’t trade them for the world.” Next year, Ector will play at the University of South Carolina alongside Panther teammate Eli Jones. (Annika Pepper)

Through the first three and a half innings of game one, neither team could get anything together. Starr’s Mill had trouble breaking through Loganville’s defense and junior pitcher Riley Cruce, who only allowed five hits against 22 batters. 

Sophomore third baseman Evan Harrah got in scoring position taking advantage of a sacrifice groundout to second at the bottom of the second. Ector capitalized with a line drive to left field for a double. The ball went all the way to the fence, and Harrah rounded third base for a score. Starr’s Mill took the first lead of the series 1-0.

“[Jones] just told me ‘Be that guy.’ So I just tried to hit the ball the best I could,” Ector said. “I didn’t think [Harrah] was scoring at first, but it hit the side of the wall and he scored.”

Both teams tried to get on the scoreboard, but neither could through the rest of the game. Yeager continued to put in work on the mound, including striking out the side in the top of the sixth. By the top of the seventh, Loganville needed something to stay in the game, still trailing 1-0.

The Panther defense shut them down with a flyout, and a popped ball that went high above the stadium caught by senior catcher Sean White. 

In the final at bat for the Red Devils, junior infielder William Cawthon made contact, sending the ball to third base. Harrah accidentally threw the ball too high to first base, but senior infielder Eli Jones leapt high to catch the ball for a 5-3 to close out the game. With a 1-0 lead, Starr’s Mill took the first game of the series.

“I didn’t really know how to play first [when I moved there], but I kind of figured it out and did whatever I had to do to help the team win,” Jones said. “You know you have to win two games that day to get [the state championship], and after we got the first win, it’s a great feeling. You got all the momentum going into the second game, and then it makes it a lot easier to win the second game.”

Ector went straight to work in the top of the first in game two with a line drive to center field for a single. He proceeded to steal second as well as third off of a fielding error, and went home off of a base hit from junior Josh Tate. Loganville had three-up, and three-down at the bottom of first, allowing the Panthers to maintain their 1-0 lead.

Senior pitcher Daniel Courtney pops off after throwing the final strikeout of the AAAAA championship game. Throwing a complete game, Courtney only allowed two runs on four hits against 28 batters. He threw the game winning strikeout that gave Starr’s Mill their first ever state title in a 4-2 win. “We knew that this was our year to do it,” Courtney said. “I think that’s what motivated everyone to work hard and just be great teammates and get to this point that we are right now.” Next year, Courtney will play at the University of North Georgia. (Annika Pepper)

Despite loading the bases with only one out, Starr’s Mill left three runners stranded at the top of the second. The Red Devils tried, but could not get on the scoreboard either. The next inning, Yeager launched one to center field near the fence for a double.

Jones capitalized by hitting a ground ball up the alley to bring home Yeager to go up 2-0. The bottom of the third was another three-up, three-down for the Red Devils. After ten scoreless innings, Loganville finally fought back in the fourth inning.

“I think the first four innings, I didn’t have my best stuff,” Courtney said. “I was just throwing a lot of fastballs, and then in that fourth inning they started to hit me pretty good. So I knew after that inning when I came out and we went in to hit, I knew that the last three innings, if I wanted to finish the game and for us to win, I was going to have to start mixing my pitches and I did.”

Senior first baseman Chandler Haulk started the comeback, reaching base off of an error. Following a strikeout, Courtney mishandled a potential groundout that put senior outfielder Michael Mason on base and Haulk in scoring position. Cawthon hit a single to load the bases.

Junior Matthew Heard made contact toward Yeager, and he connected with Tate for a 4-6 groundout to second. However, Tate was too slow to pull off the double play, which allowed Loganville to score two runs to tie the game. After giving up one more hit, a 2-3 groundout kept any further damage being dealt. After four, the game was tied 2-2.

In the top of the fifth, Starr’s Mill was playing under pressure again with two outs on the board. Yeager got things going with a single to center field and stole second after that. Out of nowhere, junior pinch hitter Alex Ukleja launched one between center field and right field, batting in Yeager to regain the lead with a double. 

“I just knew that I had to get the job done and score runs so we could win a state championship,” Yeager said. “I am super proud. Scoring runs, getting hits, making the pitches I needed to make, so that really helped us win a state championship.”

As a kid, growing up you dream of pitching the last out of a state championship and dogpiling. But when the opportunity is looking you right in the eyes, and you’re one strike away and you do it, it’s everything you can dream of.

— senior pitcher Daniel Courtney

Following a hit by pitch, Loganville made a pitching change in favor of a left handed freshman JP Myers from their JV roster. He caught the Panthers off guard on offense for a good bit, including throwing three strikeouts against five batters. Courtney and the defense shut Loganville down again with two strikeouts and a groundout to keep their 3-2 lead.

Stuck on a full count at the top of the sixth, Ector was walked, and a bad pitch led him to round second and steal third base. Tate made it to first off of an error, and Ector ran home to extend their lead. Even though Tate was tagged out on a steal attempt, a three-up, three-down kept the score the same.

The Panthers now led 4-2 going into the final inning. One good inning was all they needed for the state title.

Heard relieved Myers, and kept Starr’s Mill quiet with a three-up, three-down. Leading off for Loganville, senior outfielder Maven Farmer made contact and almost made it to first base. Yeager swiftly sped for the ball and tossed it to Jones for a 4-3 groundout just in time. 

Junior catcher Nash Beck got on base due to Harrah throwing a 5-3 groundout too high, but Cruce was silenced with a 6-3 groundout right after that. With two outs and a runner on first, senior leadoff and University of Georgia commit Daniel Braswell stepped to the plate.

“As a kid, growing up you dream of pitching the last out of a state championship and dogpiling,” Courtney said. “But when the opportunity is looking you right in the eyes, and you’re one strike away and you do it, it’s everything you can dream of. I wouldn’t trade that for the world.”

Courntey threw two straight strikes. Braswell retaliated with two chips. A ball made the count 1-2. Courtney let one rip, and Braswell swung and missed.

Strikeout. Ball game.

It is the first time a Fayette County team has won a state championship in baseball since 1964.

— Sports Editor Daniel Stackhouse

All of the players ran from the dugout and celebrated their state championship victory in a dogpile. The final score of game two was 4-2, giving Starr’s Mill the sweep.

This marks the first state championship victory in Starr’s Mill history. It is the first time a Fayette County team has won a state championship in baseball since 1964. 

The team will graduate 11 seniors, seven of which will go on to play at the collegiate level, five of those playing Division I baseball.

“[Winning a state championship is] something that has sort of been hanging over my head forever,” Moseley said. “Because we’ve won a lot of games, we’ve been to the semis, we’ve been to the finals before. It’s something I felt like, for this program to continue to grow, we needed to win a state championship, and we were able to do it.”

Their record stands at 31-11, with a state championship trophy to boot. Not only does baseball stand atop the state, but so does Panther Nation as a whole. Starr’s Mill High School clinched its fifth GADA Director’s Cup in seven years.