Round one of the Battle of the Bubble was a bit of a departure. There was a buzzer beater, but not in the boys game as McIntosh swept the night from Starr’s Mill. The Lady Chiefs won the opener in a thriller, 30-29, with DeLayne Rotolo sinking the winning three pointer at the buzzer. The McIntosh boys pulled away before halftime in a 69-55 victory.
“It was just another typical Battle of the Bubble,” said Lady Chiefs coach David Dowse. “They’re all exciting in their own way, and this one was no exception.”
The girls game was a defensive showcase as both offenses struggled to gain traction for most of the night.
Starr’s Mill led for almost all of the first three quarters, keyed by steady point guard play from Riley Clark. Clark pushed the Panthers out in front at the start, 4-0, with a steal and layup. They stayed out in front 8-6 at the end of the first quarter but would lose key player Eniyah Willingham to a tough injury.
Michaela Cushing drained a three and Clark again picked the Chiefs’ pocket as they built a 16-11 advantage heading into the half.
McIntosh started to heat up on both ends of the court in the third quarter. Their defense locked in and limited Starr’s Mill to just two points in the frame, while the offense started sinking some shots. Madison Emmet hit a jumper, and DeLayne Rotolo drilled a three to trim the deficit to two points. Cassidy Williams followed with a trey to put McIntosh ahead 19-18 at the end of the third, their first lead of the night.
“All year long, I’ve been very pleased with our young team showing a lot of resiliency,” said Dowse.
Both teams picked up the pace offensively in the fourth quarter, as Alli Jones and Cassidy Williams traded buckets and the lead early.
Williams and Rotolo both made key defensive plays as well for the Chiefs, each taking an important charge to stall the Panthers.
“We really pride ourselves on the mental and physical toughness part of it,” Dowse said. “DeLayne turned it over, but got up, sprinted down the court and took the charge to get us possession back. To me, that’s the epitome of toughness right there. And to turn around and make the game winning shot, that’s special.”
Chief freshman Kimmy Edgeworth and Emmet scored to pull ahead 27-22. Starr’s Mill surged back in front 28-27 on threes from Cushing and Riley Clark. Alli Jones tacked on one free throw to make it a 29-27 lead with eleven seconds left.
McIntosh’s shot to tie the game appeared to slip away with a miss, but Rotolo was able to scrap and force a jump ball with four seconds left on a contested rebound, the possession arrow favoring her team. She had one more huge play ready. Rotolo took the inbounds pass on the wing and put up the winning three point shot at the buzzer.
“It felt really good, but I couldn’t do it without my teammates,” said Rotolo of her winning shot. “We played really good defense all night.”
Rotolo and Williams shared the scoring lead at 12 points each. Clark led Starr’s Mill with nine points, followed by Cushing with six.
The boys game looked destined to be another epic battle at the outset, but it would not stay that way. An early Starr’s Mill lead would swing in McIntosh’s favor before the half and not waver.
“It’s always good to beat the crosstown rivals,” said boys coach Jason Eisele. “There’s an unbelievable amount of pressure on them because the students really only care about those two games (against Starr’s Mill). When that buzzer sounds, they feel like the weight of the world is off their shoulders.”
Starr’s Mill started the game hot, garnering a 14-11 lead after the first quarter. They were keyed by an opening three from Cedric Simmons and a pair of Zach Richards’s treys. For McIntosh, Jordan Lyons and Terrance Gaines hit from long range, and Chase Walter threw down a two-handed dunk.
“We know it’s always tough playing those guys. Coach (Brandon) Hutchins always does a good job,” said Eisele. “They came out on fire. They played like they had nothing to lose. It took us time to adjust to their style of play. It was a big test for us defensively.”
Adam Goodman’s pull-up jumper to open the second frame pushed the Panthers ahead by five. The rest of the quarter belonged to Jordan Lyons, who absolutely shot the lights out. When the smoke had cleared, McIntosh had a 41-29 lead with Lyons already boasting 24 points and seven three pointers.
“In the first half, we rode (Lyons),” Eisele said. “I’m glad he’s on our side because I don’t know how you guard him.”
As the Panthers focused on Lyons in the second half, other Chiefs stepped up on offense. Phillip Venson especially kept the offense in gear as they stretched out their lead. Jemal Ahmed added a three as the Chiefs padded a 49-33 advantage.
“Phil (Venson) did a great job. He always does,” praised Eisele. “I also think we have a lot more depth than we’ve had in the past. There’s not anyone on my bench that I’m not comfortable putting in when the game is on line.”
Starr’s Mill kept pushing, though, with Cedric Simmons hitting a trey and adding a scoop shot to make it a 53-38 game after three.
McIntosh regained the momentum emphatically in the fourth with a Will Washington steal and slam dunk to extend the lead to 17 points. The Chiefs kept up the pressure, salting away the clock en route to a 69-55 victory.
Jordan Lyons finished the night with 32 points, followed by nine from Washington.
Chase Walter kept pounding in the paint, racking up eight blocks.
“He controlled the paint a little bit,” said Eisele. “Chase played like an animal in there.”
Zach Richards led the Panthers with 15 points, Cedric Simmons adding 14.