Starr’s Mill celebrates a monster home run by Emily Nieuwstraten. (Staff Photos by Christopher Dunn)

By Rob Grubbs

After a mid-season break in softball action caused by Hurricane Irma, play resumed this week with key matchups to determine the Region 3-AAAAAA final standings. First place was up for grabs Tuesday night as Starr’s Mill traveled to Whitewater to avenge their only region loss of the year. A region tiebreaker would come down to the run differential in head-to-head play, so Starr’s Mill needed to win by at least two. In a game that had multiple plot twists and eight lead changes, the Panthers scored 6 runs in the 7th inning to win 10-6 in a game they had to have.

Whitewater scored first when Katelyn Petty drove in Bailey Vessell with a double in the first inning. Perry finished the game 3 for 3 with 3 RBI, all either giving the Wildcats the lead or tying the game.

Starr’s Mill got their first runs on a clutch two-out double from Kate Ashmore for their first lead of the game, 2-1 in the top of the third. After the Cats had tied it up, Emily Nieuwstraten hit a laser shot to straightaway deep center to regain the lead. She had homered in the previous game against Whitewater as well. In her next at bat, with the game tied, Nieuwstraten laid down a perfect sacrifice with no outs that sent Wakana Sato to third and scored her on an error.

Katelyn Perry paced the Wildcats with three big hits.

With the Wildcats now down by one, Kate Flanagan led off the 6th with a single but was quickly erased on a double play started by third baseman Jordan Childress, leaving Starr’s Mill only four outs away from the victory. With a two-out error, a double by Kyna Chaney, another single from Vessell, and Perry’s third hit of the game, Whitewater turned the tables and held a 6-4 lead and only needed three outs to sweep the season series.

Starr’s Mill saved their best for last, their first five batters in the 7th reaching and scoring, the biggest of which was a three-run homer by Ashmore into the Whitewater crowd along the centerfield fence. After batting around, the Panthers led 10-6, and Sato closed out the Wildcats in the bottom of the 7th for the victory.

Panther coach Mark Williamson was proud of the effort.

“We really needed that win,” he said. “We battled the whole game and kept coming back. They could have laid down several times, but they refused to quit.”

The Panthers do not get much time to celebrate, as they will be right back on the diamond tonight against McIntosh. A win there will just about wrap up the one seed going into the region playoffs.

“It’s a short turnaround, I just hope we can keep that momentum going,’” Williamson shared as he and the team headed for the buses.

Her teammates wait at the plate as Kate Ashmore beams after her three-run home run.

All nine starters for Starr’s Mill scored a run in their balanced attack, and Ashmore drove in 5 with her double and home run.

The Wildcats got three hits from Perry and two each from Vessell and Lily Griffith. They have a short turnaround as well, as they face Fayette County on tonight.