The Starr’s Mill Panthers baseball season has run its course. On Tuesday afternoon, the Panthers were swept by the Loganville Red Devils in the Final Four of the Class AAAAA state playoffs.
Loganville was a familiar opponent for Starr’s Mill. They faced each other last season, ironically in the Final Four as well. In that series, both teams needed a deciding third game before a winner was crowned. This year, things didn’t necessarily go as planned for the Panthers.
Starr’s Mill lost 5-1 in game one of the series. Loganville jumped out to a fast start as sophomore Dylan Strickland ambushed a fastball from Panthers starter Hayes Heinecke. The ball landed over the left field wall to give the Red Devils a 1-0 early lead.
Heinecke would bounce back and strike out five of his next six batters to hold the deficit at one run. Offensively, the Panthers didn’t have much success against Loganville starter Joseph Brandon.
The Georgia State commit shut down Starr’s Mill through the first two innings. The Panthers had their chance to score, following back-to-back singles from Nathan Price and Mitchell Sutton, but were turned away at the plate.
After two innings, only a passing rain storm could delay the pitching duel. The rain delay lasted an hour and 37 minutes, but it played a key role in how the first game ended.
Once action resumed, Heinecke struggled to regain his command. He walked the first two batters to face him and later gave up an RBI single to Loganville’s Bryant Pietri. Heinecke eventually worked out of the inning by inducing a 1-2-3 double play to end the inning.
Starr’s Mill attempted to make some noise in the fourth inning. Senior catcher Charlie Mizzell lead off the frame with a leadoff triple. He later scored following a sacrifice fly from Price. However, that would be the lone run scored by the Panthers.
In the sixth inning, the Red Devils put the game away with a three-run homer from senior outfielder Bay Witcher. He crushed an inside fastball and sent it over the right-center field wall. The Panthers couldn’t recover suffered the loss in game one.
Despite the two home runs, Heinecke kept the Panthers in the game. He was dominant at times as he struck out 12 batters in six innings. Starr’s Mill just couldn’t connect when it mattered.
Starr’s Mill head coach Brent Moseley was proud of his performance and giving the team a chance.
“He came back after an hour delay and it took him a minute to get back going,” Moseley said. “He was awesome and great all year long.”
In game two, the Panthers came out looking to even up the series. However, they were hampered with base-running mistakes that played a role in costing them the game.
After left fielder Thad Ector got on-base with a leadoff walk, shortstop Brian Port reached with a single to put the Panthers in business. With a rally going, Ector wound up on third base. However, he slipped too far away from the bag and was picked off to end the potential rally. This turned out to be a theme for the Panthers in the game.
The Red Devils capitalized on the fielding mistake in the bottom of the second inning as the Jacob Boyd scored following a passed ball by Mizzell. In third inning, the Red Devils would extend the lead with two more runs to extend the lead to 3-0.
In the fourth inning, Starr’s Mill had a chance to cut into the deficit. They had runners on first and third, but another base-running error ruined the rally. Sutton got picked off first base and it ended the inning.
The Red Devils once again capitalized on the mistakes. After the Panthers added two runs in the sixth inning to make it 3-2, Loganville put the game away in the bottom half with four runs.
With the game now sitting at 7-2, the Panthers couldn’t rebound to secure the victory. They went down in order in the seventh inning as Loganville moved on to the state championship.
After the game, Moseley told the team he was happy for the seniors and how the team battled all year.
“I just told the seniors that they went to back-to-back semifinals and Loganville is the defending state champions for a reason,” Moseley said. “The seniors were great and we rode them all the way to the semifinals,” Moseley said. “They were our guys and we ran them out there. Those guys answered the call each time and they led us all year.”
Mizzell agreed and said that he enjoyed the season. He hopes that the senior group rubbed off on the younger players coming up.
“It means a lot as these guys are a tight group and we had a great season,” Mizzell said. “We worked really hard and we wanted to go a little further. However, I am happy with what we did and we set a platform for these younger students to work harder and get further in the future.”
Next season, the Panthers will return a lot of players that got experience from the playoff run. Moseley said he expects the team to be back and in contention.
“We played eight freshmen at some point this season,” Moseley said. “We are going to be good in the future and hopefully this senior class showed them how to win.”