The stunning images of Starr’s Mill 37-33 victory over McIntosh in the Region 3-AAAAA championship, also known as the Battle of the Bubble Outside the Bubble, will forever be etched in the minds of the Panthers faithful.
No one will ever forget the fist pumps from Starr’s Mill head coach Brandon Hutchins or the massive dogpile of students, fans, and coaches on the court. It was a moment that was a storybook ending for a Starr’s Mill team that has battled through bumps and bruises all season.
The Panthers had lost junior forward Nate Allison to an ankle injury prior to the region playoffs, and fellow junior Julian Lynch was still feeling the effects of a body contusion suffered in the semifinals, yet they continued to press on towards their destiny.
Against their hated rival, they fought through inconsistent play to win their first region championship in school history. It was a moment that none of the players will ever forget.
“It feels good to get revenge after losing last year,” Panthers guard Drew Hudson said. “We worked our butts off and it finally paid off.”
Hudson had 16 points and led the team in scoring. He hit a mixture of timely shots to counteract the defensive prowess of McIntosh. Hudson also had the biggest play of the night by hitting a 15-foot jump shot to tie the game, before facilitating on a Carson Langham shot to give the team the final lead.
The effort was needed as McIntosh played scrappy the entire night. They battled behind senior point guard Zach Pina, who scored 10 points against his former team. The Chiefs controlled the tempo early and held a seven-point lead in the first half.
They didn’t allow Starr’s Mill to get the ball to the interior as they squeezed the Panther big men inside the paint. The strategy forced Hutchins to call an early timeout in the second quarter to settle his team down.
“I told them that we got to get to the basket,” Hutchins said. “They did it and kept their composure. It is what we have done all year.”
After the timeout, the Panthers found a way to get to the rim. Lynch got dribble penetration in the lane and that opened shots for the team. Lynch finished with 10 points and a couple of nice assists.
His play helped Starr’s Mill close the gap to 26-22 going into the fourth quarter. From there, the Panthers started to force turnovers that turned into transition offense on the other end of the floor.
Senior point guard Jake Bishop benefited from the stingy defense. He used the aggressive play to his advantage and scored six points in the final quarter. It was his free throws that iced the game and gave Starr’s Mill the victory.
“They don’t quit,” Hutchins said. “Even when we got down seven (points), we kept battling back.”
With the victory, Starr’s Mill finished the regular season ranked number in the state. They will host the first round of the state playoffs against Woodland on Friday night. McIntosh will be in action as well as they host Eagles Landing on Saturday.
Hudson believes his team is ready to battle. He said the key is for them to keep going at a high level and play Starr’s Mill basketball.
“We’ve got to keep playing our ball, limit turnovers, and play as a team,” Hudson said.
To see more photos from the game, click here.