Tuesday night was a beautiful night for lacrosse at Starr’s Mill as the Panthers swept their way into the Elite Eight of the state playoffs.
The Starr’s Mill boys protected their home turf against a fierce fight from the Buford Wolves, tightening up in the second half to secure a 16-11 victory.
“We’ve done this all year. We’ve been down, and we’ve had some tough games,” said Starr’s Mill coach Jeff Schmidlkofer. “We just hung in there and made more plays at the end.”
The early stages were a back-and-forth battle for control. Goals by Evan Torris and Ethan Sack staked the Panthers to a fast 2-0 lead, but the Wolves responded with three straight. Ryan Cockes and Torris put the Panthers back in front, and Buford answered to tie it 4-4 with 18 seconds left in the first quarter. That was enough time for Avery Jenks to work as he aimed low to beat the goalie and take a 5-4 lead with one second left.
Starr’s Mill latched onto that lead and never trailed again. Cockes pushed the lead to four goals in the second quarter, winning the face off and firing a long shot past the goalie.
A 9-6 halftime lead gave way to a low-scoring third quarter, sending the Panthers into the final frame up 10-8.
Buford got back within one goal before the Panthers ripped off a run of five straight goals.
Goalie Derek Saylor came up with big save after big save as the lead ballooned as high as six goals in the fourth quarter.
“The kid in the cage was huge tonight. He’s just a sophomore, so it’s a big stage for him,” praised Schmidlkofer. “We’ve got some pretty good poles in front of him. We try to protect him as much as we can, but he’s going to be asked to make some saves, and he did a great job.”
Jenks’s goal to make it 15-9 with 3:45 remaining was the decisive blow. Buford put three more goals on the board in the waning minutes, but it was too little too late to stop the Panthers.
The Panthers will host Lovett, a winner of seven state championships, in the next round Saturday at 2 p.m.
“Lovett’s an unbelievable program. If you know anything about high school lacrosse, you know they’re the pinnacle,” said Schmidlkofer. “Regardless of who we play, we’re going to be a tough out if we play together. We’re going to respect everybody, but we’re not going to fear anybody.”
In the night’s opener, the Lady Panthers used a scorching-hot start to build up an insurmountable lead in a 15-7 win over the Pinecrest Academy Paladins.
Before the Paladins had a chance to blink, the Panthers had pounded out an 8-0 lead. When Pinecrest finally scratched out their first goal with 10 minutes left in the first half, the gap was too wide to overcome, and that was Starr’s Mill’s plan.
“We knew what we had to do. We knew that from this point forward we have to start out extremely strong from the very beginning,” said Coach Mary Lehman.
Pinecrest strung together three first half goals, but strikes by Caroline Andrews and Jordyn Richards kept them at bay, giving Starr’s Mill a 10-3 halftime lead.
Ryanne King opened the second half scoring before the Paladins scored three straight, forcing Starr’s Mill to call a timeout to regroup.
The defense and goalie Karlee Jenks locked in down the stretch to kill any rally hopes, shutting the Paladins out for the last eight minutes of the game.
King pushed the lead back to seven goals, then fed Ansley Wallace for the final goal with seven minutes remaining as the Panthers cruised to victory.
King led the team in scoring with 5 goals, followed by Wallace with 4, and Andrews and Richards with 3 apiece. Andrews added 3 assists, with Alyssa Angelo and King each posting 2. Karlee Jenks notched 6 saves in goal.
The Lady Panthers will host Westminster in the next round Saturday at 5:30 p.m.
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