In Thursday night’s matchup, two of the county’s biggest rivals came together to rehash the legendary Battle of the Bubble on the soccer field. Through the years, the McIntosh Chiefs and Starr’s Mill Panthers have fought tooth and nail to be the best soccer school, and that same mentality was once again played out in this year’s edition. With both the girls and boys among the front runners in the state, all was on the line in the last matchup before spring break. When it was all said done, the Battle of the Bubble concluded in a split.
Kicking the evening off were the Lady Chiefs and Panthers. Coming into the game, both teams were undefeated in region play, so the winner of the match would claim the region championship. Like the Chiefs have done all season, they went on the attack which allowed them to break the game open and go on to win 6-1.
With the victory, the McIntosh girls have claimed back-to-back region and their first under new head coach Casey Kreitner.
“We still have a lot of work to do this season,” Kreitner said. “We are just going to remain focused and finish strong with our last few games heading into the playoffs. They were super focused getting ready for this game, and the girls just executed everything we talked about.”
The Chiefs’ game plan was to attack early against the Panthers defense. This allowed McIntosh to quickly convert with a score from Tariah Miller in the first five minutes of the matchup. They struck again midway through the first half with an assist from Mackensi Rohn to Katelyn Galbraith, who drilled it into the net from the left corner to put her team up 2-0.
Early in the half, Starr’s Mill was pressing hard offensively but struggled to form any shots on goal. They almost got on the board in the 25th minute after Sara Evans broke through the defense and took a soft touch on goal, but a finger tip save by Stephanie Yi kept the Panthers scoreless. Off the shot, Starr’s Mill tried three straight corners but each time the Chief defense managed to get the ball out of the box.
With the first half winding down, McIntosh scored one final goal to give themselves a 3-0 halftime lead. The goal came from freshmen Carrie Consolino with the assist from Miller. Consolino was able to draw the goalie out of the net forcing a wide-open shot on goal.
The Panthers came out of halftime clawing to get on the board, and they finally did so in the 48th minute. When Sofia Varmeziar got behind the defense, it forced Yi to convert a foul and draw the yellow card to stop the potential score. The foul occurred inside the box allowing for a PK by Chloe Spradlin, who placed the ball in the back of the net to close the gap to 3-1.
McIntosh quickly switched the momentum right back in the 55th minute with another goal from Consolino. With yet another assist from Miller, Consolino settled the ball and shot just under the goalie for the score. Ten minutes later, the Chiefs answered again with a flick from Miller to Rohn, who sent the ball up to Bailey Wagenknecht, forcing the goalie too far out of the net and getting behind her for the goal to go up 5-1.
Sara Evans continued to play aggressive at forward, but a strong backline from the Chiefs kept her team from answering again in the second half. The Chiefs closed out the game with one final goal from Keara Collins, who stood alone and took a long shot that went just out of reach of the goalie.
In the night cap, a hard fought defensive battle wrote the story for the entire 80 minutes. There would be only one goal and a crucial no call in the waning moments to decide the victor as Starr’s Mill pulled out the win in final 10 minutes of the game.
The Panthers had a little inspiration to grab the victory as it would be the final regular season matchup against McIntosh for their head coach Mike Hanie, who has been with the team since the school first opened.
“It’s a little bitter sweet,” Hanie said. “I am glad we could end it on a win. They are a very good team, and I knew it was going to be a battle from start to finish. We just happened to take a goal.”
Through much of the night, there was nothing separating the two sides offensively or defensively. The Chiefs had the first real chance to break the deadlock in the 33rd minute with a shot from Mason Harris, but a great save from Michael Lantz kept the game scoreless.
Starr’s Mill tried to create a chance of their own minutes later with a shot from Jake Eubanks, but it was the same result with a great save from the Chiefs goalkeeper Jonathan Bennett. In the final two minutes of the half, Baba Agbaje managed to run down the ball and get the deflection off the keeper but the Panther defense ran in for the save for a scoreless deadlock at the half.
Early in the second half, the Panthers pulled the momentum to their side which helped create chances on goal. The first big opportunity came in the 55th minute off a corner, but when it looked as if Starr’s Mill was about to have a shot on goal, Bennett came in with the jumping save to get the ball out of the box. Jack Baker created another chance for the Panthers in the 65th minute but had his shot go just wide of the net.
The golden goal finally came in the 72nd minute of the game, and after countless efforts at goal throughout the second half, the Panthers got the answer they been waiting for. Off a pass from Ryan Shanahan, Noah Pavel was able to quickly settle the ball and take his shot at the keeper, just getting it by him and into the back of the net.
Even with the late score, the Panther defense had quite a bit of work to do with the Chiefs going quickly on the offensive attack. McIntosh had a few chances, but Lantz kept making the saves. With under a minute left, Pierce Strong leaked through the defense inside the box and was taken down from behind, but the whistle the Chiefs wanted never came, allowing the Panthers to run out the clock for the huge victory.
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