The 2018-2019 Battle of the Bubble series kicked off Tuesday night at McIntosh High School as the Chiefs hosted the Starr’s Mill Panthers in softball.
In front of a packed house, Starr’s Mill defeated McIntosh 3-0 behind a dominant pitching performance from freshman Lilli Backes. She shutout the Chiefs by allowing two hits in seven innings of work. The win propelled the Panthers to their sixth straight victory as McIntosh fell to 1-3 overall.
“She did a great job and allowed just two hits,” Panthers head coach Mark Williamson said. “She kept them off balance with her changeup and hit her spots pretty well. She is a good little ballplayer.”
Backes used her changeup to quickly retire the first 10 batters she faced. She worked in and out of the zone to get ahead in the count as McIntosh mustered ground ball outs.
In the fourth inning, Backes found some trouble as the Chiefs collected back-to-back singles to put the tying run at the plate. After a quick meeting in the circle among teammates, she retired Chiefs’ Rebecca Muh and Ashlyn Gaines to end the threat.
McIntosh wouldn’t get another opportunity as Backes retired the last nine batters to record the victory.
“It doesn’t seem to faze her as she plays high-level travel softball,” Williamson said. “She has been in that situation before.”
With Backes dealing, the Panthers just had to provide her with some run support. Sophomore Jolie Lester ignited the offense with a leadoff single in the second inning. She came around to score after junior Paige Andrews reached on an error.
The Panthers added two more runs in the third inning as sophomore speedster Lauren Flanders walked, stole two bases, and scored on a RBI single from senior Lea Duben. Two batters later, Lester drove home Duben to give Starr’s Mill a three-run lead.
“We preached trying to score first, and anytime we can get that first run across, it adds a little pressure to the other team,” Williamson said. “The few hits that we did have came at a good time.”
Despite giving up three runs, McIntosh head coach Carlie Anderson was proud of her team’s effort. She liked how they competed at the plate and in the field. There were some great defensive plays made and it left her excited for how the young team was developing.
“We have been focusing on some different things in practice, and the girls have been executing it well,” Anderson said. “They have a good athletic team and they were able to capitalize on some of our mistakes.”
Anderson also praised the job by Muh in the circle. Muh had her rise ball and slider working against the Panthers. She allowed three runs on three hits, all singles, and showed her promise as a frontline starter of the rotation.
“Rebecca did a great job in the circle, and their pitcher (Backes) did a great job,” Anderson said. “It was a good game and I thought we competed and played well.”
Both teams return to the heart of their schedules and don’t face each other again until September 11. McIntosh looks to continue growing as a unit and make a run at the playoffs with a young nucleus.
“They are working hard in practice and battling in games with a lot of energy,” Anderson said. “We have a lot of positives and we just have to keep competing. Our days will hopefully come soon.”
In the meantime, Starr’s Mill hopes to improve at the plate as they continue their strong start to the season.
“We didn’t know where we would be,” Williamson said. “We had some good upperclassmen that were coming back and some freshmen that could help us. It is just a scrappy little group that loves to battle.”