by Rob Grubbs
Starr’s Mill and McIntosh renewed their “Battle of the Bubble” rivalry on the softball diamond Tuesday night at Starr’s Mill. The last time they met was in the first round of the 2016 region playoffs which ended in a Lady Panther sweep. In the first renewal of the rivalry for 2017, two players who were in middle school last year dominated the game: McIntosh pitcher Rebecca Muh and Starr’s Mill infielder Lauren Flanders. The Panthers scored on a walk-off hit with two outs in the 7th inning for a thrilling 5-4 win. When the two teams meet again later this season, it is a safe bet that both freshman will be in the middle of things again.
Flanders got on base and scored in all four of her at bats, including three stolen bases. Her quickness constantly put pressure on the Chief defense and ultimately led to the game winning run. Muh, fresh off a strong performance against Whitewater last week, struck out 11 Panthers and kept her team in the game until the very last pitch. These two will be battling each other for years to come.
Starr’s Mill jumped out early, scoring two runs on a Kate Ashmore single in the first inning for a quick 2-0 lead, and it seemed that a rout could be on, but Muh steadied herself and struck out the final two batters to prevent further damage.
Senior Abbey Brady started in the circle for Starr’s Mill and constantly got in and out of trouble, and after two, the Panthers led 2-1.
The Chief offense came alive in the third for three runs as Savannah Moore and Brooke Burnett had RBIs. Starr’s Mill’s Coach Mark Williamson brought in pitcher Paige Andrews who closed out the third with the Chiefs now up 4-2.
Muh, proving she was more than just a pitcher, led off the top of the fourth with a double off the fence in left-center, just inches from leaving the park. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, that would be the last hit they got for the night as Andrews sat down the next 12 batters in a row.
Meanwhile, the Panthers continued to chip away, scoring single runs in the 3rd and 5th innings, both by Flanders, one on an RBI single by Laura Sellers and another on a dropped third strike that Flanders scored on all the way from second.
In the bottom of the 7th, Muh got the first two outs quickly and only needed to retire Flanders to push the game to extras. However, her pitch hit Flanders in the face mask on a slap attempt, and then she stole second on the next pitch. Ashmore hit a slow grounder up the middle the second baseman backhanded, but with Flanders moving at the pitch, she easily slid into home before the throw with the winning run.
Williamson was relieved afterwards. He had watched his team come from behind while also spending most of the evening making sure the lights stayed on after a short delay earlier.
“McIntosh has a strong team. They are going to make a lot of noise this season,” he said. “Muh is a really good pitcher.”
He was a bit more reserved talking about his own squad.
“We battled the whole night against some good pitching. We are trying to find the right nine ballplayers, and tonight spoke volumes,” he said. “Flanders is definitely one of the nine. We are going in the right direction.”
The Panthers enjoyed another walk-off win on Wednesday night, beating Union Grove with the same script, a hit by Ashmore scoring Flanders for the win. Sellers also contributed with a grand slam. With a matchup against Whitewater coming up next Tuesday, the Panthers are finding their way, and Flanders is right in the middle of things.
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