By Riley Hicks
Lady Tigers remain undefeated in region with 47-40 victory over Starr’s Mill
As the basketball season begins to slowly come to a close, teams are starting to jockey for position in region standings in hopes of capturing a region championship. This was the case Friday night, when the Starr’s Mill Panthers traveled to the Fayette County Tigers where both the girls and boys teams currently sit as the top front runners in the region.
In the girl’s game, the Tigers wanted to keep their undefeated streak alive in region play but the task would not come easy with a strong shooting lady Panthers team on the opposing side. All Starr’s Mill needed was just one win to put themselves in a tie for first place with Fayette County.
After a back-and-forth game throughout three quarters, the Tigers eventually separated themselves in the fourth period to claim a 47-40 victory over the Panthers.
“It was a chest match,” Fayette County head coach John Strickland said. “Towards the end it finally broke loose for us a little bit and I felt real good about that being it’s a county rivalry. It gives us an opportunity to stay in first place.”
Fayette opened the game with the first points with a two pointer from Sidney Sims. That lead would quickly vanish following back-to-back threes from the Panthers, which set up an 8-2 run by Starr’s Mill. Unwilling to let the game slip away from them early, the Tigers managed to claw back and tie it up at 14 a piece at the end of the first quarter.
In the second period, both teams tried to gain some amount of leverage over the other but each had the hot hand connecting with a majority of its baskets. Most of the time when either Fayette or Starr’s Mill scored the other had an answer on the opposite end of the court. This type of game brought the half time score to 25-24 in favor of the Tigers.
The Panthers reclaimed the lead following a wide open two pointer from Emily Nieuwstraten, who had a strong third quarter, while also leading the team in scoring with 15 points. Once again, Starr’s Mill would stretch out the gap by going on a 9-0 run against the Tigers. Fayette found a way to battle back and eventually tied the game on a steal from Trinity Brown, who drove to the basket for an easy layup. This was followed by Maegan Barkley draining a two pointer to recapture the lead at 38-36 heading into the final quarter.
The Tigers, Rikkelle Miller, opened the fourth by sinking a three allowing them to jump out to a five-point deficit, which they held throughout most of the quarter. Starr’s Mill tried to string a comeback but strong rebounding from Naomi Franco and shooting by Brown, who had 12 points, made the task unmanageable.
This win by the Tigers helps extend their lead by two games against the Panthers with just a few games left on the schedule.
Starr’s Mill escapes with 55-48 road victory over Fayette
In the boys game, it was the Panthers who were trying to stay atop of the region with tough teams in McIntosh and Fayette trailing just behind them. After a struggling first half, Starr’s Mill would finally separate themselves from Fayette County and go on winning by a score of 55-48.
“I thought sluggish first half but second half was Starr’s Mill basketball,” Panther head coach Brandon Hutchins said. “When you come over here and beat a team like this that are very well coached it is a good road win for us. It sets us up for next week and we just got to keep taking care of business.”
The first quarter was dominantly controlled by the Panthers after going on a 9-4 run in the first few minutes. They only trailed once the entire game and that was when the Tigers, Terrell Bradley, scored the opening points of the game. Even with the early run by the Panthers, both teams struggled at the basket and the score was only 11-6 at the end of the first period.
After Fayette seemed to gain some sort of momentum to start the second quarter by closing the deficit, the Panthers would once again stretch their lead by going on a 9-0 run in just three minutes. It took the Tigers until the 4:20 mark in the second period to finally cross into double digits, but they would not quit fighting and managed to close the gap before the half. This happened by back-to-back threes from Ricky Knight and a buzzer beater three by Jordan Brown to only trail 28-22 at the half.
At the start of third quarter, Starr’s Mill seemed to be a completely different team by converting a majority of its shots and playing lights out defense. It would be the Panthers, Drew Hudson, helping lead the way to victory by scoring 20 of his 26 points in the second half. Throughout the entire quarter, Hudson hit from down low or even behind the arc and the Tigers did not have any answer for him.
“If he is not the region player of the year, I don’t know who is,” Hutchins said. “The dude just comes to play every night. He is our main scorer and rebounder, he is just an absolute all around great player.”
In the fourth quarter, the Panthers maintained a double-digit lead for a majority of the time. The Tigers defense would come alive late by making some key stops and answering at the other end but could not manage to tie the game.
The Panthers now just hold a small lead against McIntosh in the battle for the region championship and with only a few games left on the schedule this race is going to come down to the very end.