Ruth Jones and Sarah Middleton fire up the dugout as Carly Grove gets ready in the on deck circle against Bainbridge. The Wildcats swept through into round two. (Photo by Michael Clifton /

Starr’s Mill wins thrilling game one en route to series win

Whitewater rolls over Bainbridge

by Rob Grubbs

The Starr’s Mill Panthers opened the GHSA softball state playoffs by hosting a tournament game for the first time in school history. Fresh from pushing the region champion Whitewater Wildcats to a deciding third game in the region championship only a week earlier, they are poised to make a run deep into the playoffs and clinch a spot in the Elite Eight in Columbus later this month. Their first round opponent, the Veterans Warhawks, made the drive from Warner Robins as the third seed from Region 1-AAAAA with a season record of 11-13.
As the regular season gives way to postseason, each at bat becomes more significant, each pitch has more meaning, and each game seems to carry intense drama from inning to inning. Sometimes, the game develops a reality of its own that takes spectators and parents away from their day-to-day obligations and schedules and for the next two hours they become lost in umpire calls, advancing runners, double plays, and bunts with two strikes. When the game ends, you realize that athletics touch your emotions like no other, and memories are replayed of the events for years to come. This is the type of contest that emerged from game one, which went the full seven innings, lasted two hours and thirty minutes, and ended with Starr’s Mill up 12-11, winning on a walk-off stolen base.
Any misconceptions about the Veterans team based on their record would be quickly replaced as they jumped out to an early 7-1 lead with strong hitting and starting pitcher Jenna West’s ability to control both sides of the strike zone, holding the home team hitless through the first three innings. Counting game three the week before against Whitewater, the Panthers had only gotten one hit in the past eight innings.
With the Veterans hitters getting too comfortable in the box against starting pitcher Wakana Sato and Coach Mark Williamson not wanting to burn his game two starter too early, he brought in Abbey Brady to restore some order to the game and get a shutdown inning. In the first of many strategic moves that paid off for Williamson, Brady rose to the occasion, pitching the next two innings and slowing  down the Warhawks’ aggressive hitting style, only allowing one run to give the Panthers lineup time to jump start itself. Even with Brady’s performance, they still needed to dig deep to find that offensive spark to get back into the game.
Leadership can be seen in team sports in a myriad of ways, it can be through encouragement, shared experiences, or even just a reassuring calmness when everything else seems chaotic. Sometimes leadership needs to come through performances of excellence that pave the way for the rest of the team tp follow. With the score 8-1 in the bottom of the fourth, Starr’s Mill needed that type of leadership. They needed their best players to step up, and senior Shelby Daniel did just that, crushing a leadoff home run that gave her team newfound energy. When the dust had settled at the end of four, Starr’s Mill was now up 10-8, and there was new electricity in the ballpark.
Even though Veterans would plate three more runs and take a brief 11-10 lead, Starr’s Mill scored single runs in the sixth and sevent. The game winning run scored with two outs, as pinch runner Kendall Robinson, standing on second base with two outs, stole third and came home on the overthrow. Freshman pitcher Paige Andrews relieved Brady in the fifth and finished as the winning pitcher.
The crowd only had twenty minutes to process the walk-off win when game two began, with Williamson putting Andrews back in the circle to start. As Veterans did in the first game, Starr’s Mill jumped out early, still fueled with the adrenalin and excitement from the previous activity. With a 3-0 lead early, Williamson came back to Sato, who had steadied herself after a tough first game and pitched the final three innings for the win. The Starr’s Mill’s offense continued to roll, finishing the Warhawks off in five innings with a 12-2 final and the first round clinched.
On the night, Daniel finished the sweep with three home runs and 8 RBI. Sophomore Lea Duben reached safely in all eight of her plate appearances, with five hits and one walk. She was also plunked twice, and scored 7 runs, doing what a leadoff hitter does. Shortstop Alyssa Angelo excelled in the field, overcoming an early error to make numerous web gems and end game two with a slick double play.
After the sweep, Duben said, “The key was our mental toughness. We refused to let each other get down, and we continued to play our game. We never got down on ourselves, and we came back because of that.”
Coach Williamson for his part, added, “The girls just never gave up. They battled like this all year, and they came through again tonight.”
He also acknowledged the clutch pitching of Brady to get them through game one and mentioned the offensive star, Daniel, also made a defensive gem of her own, catching a tailing fly ball in deep left field that saved two runs.
With the first home playoff wins in school history, Starr’s Mill had little time to celebrate, Williamson reminded the girls there was work to be done, and there would be practice the next day after school. The next step is a series against Region 5-AAAAA Arabia Mountain High School on Wednesday October 19 in Lithonia, Georgia. The Rams will bring in a record of 21-7 to the contest.
In other county action, Whitewater swept Bainbridge in their series and will face Woodland at home for the opportunity to advance to Columbus, Fresh off winning a region championship, Whitewater left no doubt that they mean business, pounding Bainbridge in a two-game sweep. Whitewater took the opener of the best-of-three series 4-1 over Bainbridge. In the second game, the Cats’ bats really came alive as they lashed the Bearcats 13-3. Whitewater advances to the second round where they will host Woodland, with the best-of-three series starting a doubleheader Wednesday.
McIntosh was knocked out in the first round by Harris County, falling 9-0 in game one and 8-0 in game two.


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Whitewater, McIntosh, Starr’s Mill roll into second round of volleyball tourney

by Christopher Dunn

The opening round of the state volleyball tournament was a fruitful one for several Fayette squads.
Whitewater built on their region championship with a dominating performance against the Lithonia Bulldogs, winning in straight sets (25-3, 25-6, 25-8). The Cats won the three-set match by a cumulative score of 75-17. The Wildcats will face Decatur at home in the second round.
McIntosh entered the playoffs as a two seed, hosting the Southwest Dekalb Panthers. The Chiefs made quick work of their opponents (25-6, 25-6, 25-9). They were paced in kills by Jessie Doyal (8), digs by Finn Millian (8), and assists by Lynsey Hamblin (16). The Chiefs will travel to play Riverwood in the second round.
Entering the playoffs as a three seed, Starr’s Mill went on the road and hammered the Arabia Mountain Rams (25-13, 25-20, 25-10). They were lead in kills by Dani Simonsen (9), aces by Gabi Ramkissoon (6), digs by Alexis Berrios (8), and assists by Emily Schafhauser (15). The Panthers will travel to play Veterans in round two.
In a Creek battle, Sandy Creek opened with a commanding straight sets victory over Cross Creek. The Patriots started strong, winning the first set 25-13 and only got better from there, taking the second set 25-10 and finishing them off 25-6 in the third set. They will travel to play Columbus in the second round.