by Rob Grubbs
The Starr’s Mill and Whitewater softball teams have gotten to know each other really well over the past three seasons. They have faced off for the region championship each year and even played in the 2016 state championship tournament down in Columbus. They have played 14 games in that span, and Lady Panther senior Paige Andrews has played in all of them. The rivalry for 2019 was renewed on Tuesday, and Andrews left a lasting impression. She went 3-for-5 and hit a 7th inning grand-slam on the way to a 13-1 Panther victory over the Wildcats.
The game got off to an ominous start for Starr’s Mill. After failing to score in the top of the first, electric Lady Wildcat leadoff hitter Kyye Ricks forced an uncharacteristic error by the Panther defense and scored on a four-base error for a 1-0 lead. Madilyn Cochran added a double with two outs in the first, but Panther starter Lilli Backes ended the threat with a strikeout.
Backes put things into cruise control after that. She struck out the side in the next three innings and waited for the Starr’s Mill offense to plate some runs.
“I told someone today, if we can score four or five runs with Lilli in the circle, we will be ok,” said Starr’s Mill coach Mark Williamson.
It didn’t take long. Andrews singled to lead off the second, and Ashley Sikes followed suit. A couple of defensive lapses by the Wildcats and a Lauren Flanders single put Starr’s Mill up 4-1.
Just as Backes turned up the heat on Whitewater, the Starr’s Mill offense got just as hot. Andrews led off the 5th inning with a double which started a four-run rally, led by RBI hits from Kalin Blinstrub, Sydney Blair, and Jolie Lester. They closed the game out with five runs in the 7th inning courtesy of a Backes RBI single and the Andrews grand slam.
“Tonight’s game means a lot, especially from where I started from my freshman year up to now. But my favorite memory of this series is still when we beat them at state my ninth-grade year,” said Andrews.
Williamson was proud of the way his team stepped up.
“Some of the girls have been waiting since the region tournament last year to play them again,” he said. “I think our top of the order was pressing a little too much early. They settled down and swung the bats a little better midway through the game.”
Backes finished with a complete game, only giving up three hits and striking out 14 batters. In addition to Cochran, Alexis Larrow and Abby Thomason got hits for Whitewater.
In other action, the Panthers lost an extra game against perennial power East Coweta 3-2 on Friday night. Backes struck out 14 once again, which gave her a total of 43 strikeouts in her last three games, including McIntosh and Whitewater. They rebounded to beat Hampton 7-6.
The McIntosh Chiefs got a region win against Jonesboro 16-0, while the Fayette County Tigers defeated Jonesboro in a nail-bitter 21-20. Finally, the Sandy Creek Patriots defeated Langston Hughes earlier in the week 20-1.
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