Region play has been kind to Starr’s Mill, and the Panthers continued their roll Tuesday night with a doubleheader takedown of the Dutchtown Bulldogs. The Lady Panthers exploded in the third quarter en route to a 54-43 win, and the boys controlled throughout in a 69-56 victory.
“We’re right where we want to be right now,” said Lady Panthers coach Shane Ratliff, whose team is now 8-5 in region play with the tournament looming and big games against Mundy’s Mill and McIntosh next week. “We’ve got a chance to move ourselves up into that top half of the (region) bracket and get a chance to go to state. That’s our goal. We’re hoping we can play our way into it.”
The Lady Panthers pulled in front early with good ball movement. Riley Clark fed Dylan Patterson to grab a quick three-point lead, and Laurel Parker dished to Kelly Kozusko for two down low. Emily Nieuwstraten notched the last two points as they led 12-7 after a physical first quarter.
Michaela Cushing scored the team’s first five points of the second quarter to keep her squad in front as the Bulldogs rallied to within 17-15. The Panther defense locked in from there and shutout the opposition for the remainder of the half, holding onto a 21-15 advantage.
The third quarter belonged to Starr’s Mill’s offense as they got red hot, hitting on five 3-pointers. Cushing and Patterson hit first before Alli Jones sank a trio of 3-pointers as the lead grew to 42-31 heading into the final quarter.
The approach switched in the fourth as Riley Clark was able to get to the hoop on command, starting the quarter off with a pair of layups, then dishing to Kozusko in the paint for a bucket. Dutchtown never could solve the Panther defense as Starr’s Mill ran away with the 54-43 win.
Alli Jones led the scoring with 13 points, followed by Michaela Cushing with 11 and Dylan Patterson with 10.
The victory puts the Lady Panthers at 11-8 overall, 8-5 in region play.
After a tough start to the season that saw a young Starr’s Mill boys squad scuffle to a 2-8 record, the team has turned things around. The 69-56 win over Dutchtown makes them winners of six of the last seven games.
“This group is coming together. A lot of people are sleeping on us,” said coach Brandon Hutchins of his team that includes two sophomores and a freshman in the starting lineup. “I’m impressed with their effort.”
The Panthers baffled the Bulldogs all night with an array of good ball movement, led by their dynamic sophomore point guard, Zach Pina.
“It all runs through Zach Pina. I think he’s one of the best point guards around,” said Hutchins. “He got us in some situations where we were able to get easy baskets, then we got some stops on defense. It was a huge win for us.”
Pina orchestrated a strong start, dishing to freshman Nate Allison for the first points from the floor, then calling his own number for a 3-pointer. Allison added two more buckets as the Panthers built up an 8-1 lead, then held a 12-11 advantage at the end of the quarter.
Jack Van Nimwegen wreaked havoc on the Bulldogs at the start of the second quarter, stealing the ball and laying it in for three straight baskets. Starr’s Mill would finish with 12 total steals on the night. Kyle Evert added a layup, and Drew Hudson sank a three as they pulled ahead 30-17 at the half.
The Panthers got to work in the paint, padding their lead to 44-33 after three quarters on more layups from Allison and Van Nimwegen. Hudson brought the crowd to their feet early in the fourth, absorbing contact and converting a circus shot and free throw for a three-point play. Satchel Goodrich’s 3-pointer helped the lead balloon to more than 20 points, and a impressive Pina to Van Nimwegen to Allison basket led to a frustrated Dutchtown squad racking up a pair of technical fouls.
Zach Pina filled up the stat sheet with a team-high 21 points to go along with 5 assists and 3 steals. Nate Allison was right behind with 19 points and 7 rebounds. Jack Van Nimwegen posted 11 points and 5 steals, and Drew Hudson finished with 10 points and 8 rebounds.
The win raises Starr’s Mill’s record to 8-9 overall and 7-6 in the region.