by Riley Hicks
Thursday night’s final Battle of the Bubble matchup of the regular season brought the Starr’s Mill Panthers across town to tangle with the McIntosh Chiefs for bragging rights in lacrosse. Even a stormy evening in Peachtree City could not dull the aggression and passion for claiming a monstrous win over a county rival from these two opponents. After two grueling games between the girls and boys, the Panthers left the Chiefs drenched in defeat after capturing both victories.
In the girl’s game, the Panthers kept their undefeated streak alive in the region by defeating the Chiefs in a dominating 17-1 win. With the victory, the Starr’s Mill girls not only gave their rival their only region loss this season, but they also have now claimed their fourth-straight area title as they look to avenge last year’s state title game loss.
“I think we are in a better position this year than we were last year,” said Panthers head coach Mary Lehman. “We’re looking good.”
The Panthers quickly got on the scoreboard in the 2nd minute with a goal from senior Alyssa Angelo as she broke through the Chief defense to put her team up 1-0. The score started a streak of goals for the Panthers as they added three more in the first 10 minutes of play, coming from Caroline Andrews, Emma Helper, and Angelo’s second goal of the night in the 10th minute to open the lead to 4-0.
McIntosh finally got the board in the 17th minute with an assist from Lucy Stone to Caroline McCollum to close the gap to 4-1. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, this would be the only goal allowed by the Panther defense the rest of the match.
In the closing minutes of the first half, Starr’s Mill extended its lead by adding three more scores. The first came from Ansley Wallace in the 22nd minute, and just seconds later another by Andrews for her second goal. With a little over two minutes left in the half, Angelo claimed her third goal to close the half at 7-1 in favor of the Panthers.
Starr’s Mill didn’t lose a beat in the second half as they scored 10 unanswered points to put the game completely out of reach for the Chiefs. In the first five minutes of play in the second, the Panthers put three goal into the net. The first from Helper in the 27th minute, then an assist from Angelo to Ryanne King, and another goal by Andrews for her third to put the team up 10-1.
McIntosh tried to form some sort of defensive stop but came at no avail. The scoring frenzy continued throughout the second half with goals coming from Wallace, another assist from Angelo to Hannah Leon , and a second goal from King in the 37th minute to put the Panthers up 13-1.
With Karlee Jenks and Kaitlyn Donovan keeping the Chiefs off the board in net, the Panthers closed the night with four final goals. The scores came from Jessica Deluca, King, Maddie Kross, and ending the game with one final score in the 58th minute was Hepler.
As the Lady Panthers embark on their playoff path, they know the key a stay title will be leaning on their teamwork and a blend of young talent and veteran leadership.
“It’s truly such a well-balanced field for us right now,” said Lehman.
The Lady Panthers open the playoffs Wednesday at home against Woodland.
In the boys game, the Panthers and Chiefs battled back-and-forth in the first half but Starr’s Mill broke the game open in the second half to win the game 15-7. The victory locked the Panthers in as the second seed from the area as they head into the playoffs.
“This year we tried to amp up our schedule, so we challenged ourselves with a bunch of good teams early and another good team tonight,” said head coach Jeff Schmidlkofer.
The Panthers got on the board first with a goal from Cole Bishop, but McIntosh quickly answered back with a score from Jabari Holifield to tie the game up at 1-1 with 7 minutes left in the first quarter.
The Panthers then scored three unanswered goals, the first by Jacob Zellen with 6:49 left in the first. Minutes later, Gabe Lopez and Karsen Kalen each scored to bump the lead to 4-1. In the closing seconds of the first period McIntosh’s Bryan Kemp scored to close the gap to within two and bring a spark of life back into the Chiefs.
In the opening moments of the second period, Luke Rusterucci once again put his Panthers back up by four with an early score off an assist by Christian Sparkman.
The Chiefs switched the momentum in their favor and went on a scoring run of their own. The first score came at the 10-minute mark from Logan Sandal and was followed by goals from Holifield and Carter Boicourt to bring a deadlock at 5-5. With 1:17 left in the half, the Panthers recaptured the lead with a goal from Addison Long to bring the halftime score to 6-5.
Boicourt opened the third capturing his second goal of the night to bring the game back to a tie at six apiece. With the game continually swinging back-and-forth, both teams hoped to finally make a run to break open the match, and it would come in favor of the Panthers. In a span of five minutes Starr’s Mill converted three unanswered goals to start putting the game away. The scores came from Lopez with the assist by Rusterucci with 8:56 left in the period, then Sparkman added another goal, followed by Reid Harrison to extend the lead to 9-6.
McIntosh ended the third putting one more ball into the net with the assist from Kemp to Boicourt for his third goal, but on the following faceoff Garrett Meuninck of Starr’s Mill won the head-to-head battle and sprinted down the field for the score to go up 10-7 heading into the fourth.
In the final period the momentum swung entirely in the Panthers’ favor as they scored five unanswered goals to close out the game and any chance for a Chiefs comeback. The goals came from Harrison, Rusterucci, Bishop, Lopez, and the last point was scored by Adam Bennett.
Riding into the playoffs on a hot streak, Starr’s Mill knows they have a lot to tighten up as the competition gets stiffer.
“We have got to stop turning the ball and stop getting into the penalty box,” said Schmidlkofer. “We just have to keep grinding that’s just the way it is in lacrosse.”
The Panthers open the state playoffs Wednesday against Whitewater.
To see more photos, click here.