The highly-anticipated renewal of the Battle of the Bubble did not disappoint. Starr’s Mill claimed the girls game, 3-2, and the McIntosh boys won the night cap, 3-1.
Stakes could not get much higher than they were for the girls matchup. McIntosh came in at 13-0 and ranked number one in AAAAA. Starr’s Mill was just behind at 13-1 and ranked second. Add on top of that, the winner locks up the region championship.
“As far as regular season goes, that’s pretty much as big as it gets, playing McIntosh first off and then add a region championship on the line,” said Starr’s Mill coach John Bowen, whose team will now only need to beat Stockbridge at home to officially win the region. “We’re not done. This is just a nice moment. We’ve got lots more to do.”
The Lady Panthers got the win, but the familiar refrain from both sides is that this was not the last time they will meet. They’ve already circled the state championship as a rematch date for the two top squads.
“I told (the McIntosh coach) and I told our girls, we’re going to do it again in four weeks. If we don’t, I’m going to be disappointed,” said Bowen. “That’s what we should expect.”
The game was also remarkable because it featured one of the state’s top offensive attacks (Starr’s Mill tallies six goals a game) against one of the most unforgiving defenses (McIntosh had allowed only two goals all season coming into the game).
“The fun thing about this game was it was our strength against their strength and our weakness against their weakness,” said Bowen. “It was always going to be this kind of game. It was always going to be this way down to the last second.”
The Panthers quickly unleashed a barrage on offense. In just the twelfth minute, Ashton Nowicki headed in a long Lauren Yoss throw for a 1-0 advantage. Less than 30 second later, they struck again. This time it was Riley Clark charging up the left side of the box and slicing a perfectly angled shot into the top right corner of the goal, just over the keeper for a 2-0 lead.
McIntosh was stunned by the quick deficit, but did not stay down long.
In the game’s eighteenth minute, Chandler Witucki’s low corner kick found Veronica Cappas, who punched it in to narrow the gap to 2-1. In the twenty-ninth minute, Starr’s Mill’s defense misplayed a long goal kick, allowing Taylor Malasek to face the keeper one-on-one, beating her for an easy chip into the net to tie the game at 2-2.
The Chiefs nearly took the lead in the half’s final thirty seconds, but keeper Ashlyn Walloch made a spectacular diving save to stop them.
Starr’s Mill was able to respond in the second half, locking out the Chief attack.
“We always talk about everything starts with defense. Our defensive pressure dropped, especially after their first goal,” said Bowen. “What we talked about at halftime is the score is really irrelevant. Your job is the same no matter what. Let’s forget about it and go play.”
McIntosh got one of their few looks of the second half seven minutes in when Caroline Laux missed just high and right.
Starr’s Mill notched the deciding goal 14 minutes into the half, Leslie Logan slicing a cross to the back post that Clark headed home for a 3-2 lead.
The Chiefs got one more great look with five minutes to play off a corner where the ball bounced around in the box, but Walloch was able to pounce on it and seal up the victory for her squad.
McIntosh came into the boys game the decided favorite with a number one ranking and a 13-1 record, but Starr’s Mill made them fight for every inch.
“It’s always good to play at Starr’s Mill and get a win,” said coach Bunky Colvin. “I thought we played real well. We kept the ball and played smart.”
Despite falling into a slump that now has them on a five-game losing streak, the Panthers showed they can be dangerous.
“I think Starr’s Mill played very, very well and showed a lot of class tonight. They played their hearts out,” praised Colvin. “They made it very hard on us. They kept a lot of numbers behind the ball, and they were well organized defensively, but our guys found a way to get through and get some goals.”
Much like the Lady Panthers, the boys made a quick strike. In the tenth minute, the Panthers hustled their way to the opening score. On a long ball deep into the Chiefs end, Jonathan Ulversoy sprinted into the corner to wrestle the ball away from a Chief defender and chipped it into the box. Sam Pompeo corralled it and punched it past an aggressive charge by the keeper for a 1-0 lead.
McIntosh stayed focused, answering five minutes later. It was Jacob Stevens chipping it over the Starr’s Mill keeper to Jake Donaldson for the equalizer.
In the fifteenth minute, the Chiefs stepped in front to stay, Jeffery Magee setting up John Bruhn for the goal and a 2-1 advantage.
McIntosh found the net once more with eleven minutes to play in the match, Luke Mohney scoring off the post for the 3-1 winning margin.
The victory sealed up another region championship for the McIntosh boys.