East Coweta was the featured guest at Starr’s Mill’s home opener, but it was freshman forward Jaclyn Hester that earned all the party favors.
Hester was dominant in her home debut. She scored 17 points and collected 23 rebounds as the Lady Panthers rolled past the Lady Indians 55-37. It was Hester’s second time scoring 15 or more points as Starr’s Mill picked up its first victory of the season.
“It was my teammates that helped me out tonight,” Hester said. “Everyone was contributing and I knew I had to box out. It is a big part of it as I had to make sure my opponents were behind me in order to get (the rebounds).”
Starr’s Mill found an early rhythm against East Coweta. Senior guard SK Kirby capped a 15-5 run with consecutive 3-pointers. Kirby posted 8 points in the quarter as Hester worked to collect 9 rebounds in the paint.
Offensively, the Indians didn’t have an answer inside. Hester used her length to negate several attempts at the rim. As a result, the Panthers got out on the fast break and converted easy baskets that equated to a 11-point lead.
“It was really nice, especially coming off of Thanksgiving, when we only got to practice one time,” Sweeney said. “The fact they came out like they did, I am really proud of them.”
East Coweta bounced back in the second quarter. Freshman guard Letiya Reeves led the charge, scoring 9 or her game-high 22 points in the period. Reeves cut the deficit within six points, with 3:30 remaining, via a layup off a Panthers turnover. The shot swayed momentum as the Indians entered halftime down 27-19.
In the second half, Starr’s Mill once again took control. The Panthers relied on junior leader Alice Anne Hudson. The talented guard made her season debut after sitting out the previous three games with an ankle injury.
Hudson’s return was crucial to the Panthers half-court set. She facilitated the offense and found her teammates throughout. A big highlight was Hudson hitting junior Ryanne King with a seamless back-cut assist to the hoop.
“It was very big to have her (Hudson) back tonight,” Hester said. “She helped to eliminate a lot of turnovers as she handled the ball. She also helped find us with her passing as well.”
After a quiet first half, Hudson found her shot in the final periods. She exploded for 11 of her 16 total points, while working to get to the free-throw line. Once there, she nailed 6 free throws. Defensively, Hudson collected 8 steals as the Panthers created a sizable lead.
East Coweta couldn’t recover. Starr’s Mill outscored them 17 to 11 to open a double-digit advantage. The lead swelled to 18 points as Panthers head coach Emily Sweeney emptied the bench in the fourth quarter.
“I am really proud of them and they played great today,” Sweeney said. “They did exactly what I asked them to do. If they keep doing that, we should be able to get some more wins.”
The victory gives Starr’s Mill a boost heading into a pivotal non-region matchup against Sandy Creek on Friday night. The Lady Patriots are a tough team, but Sweeney believes her squad is ready to compete against another quality opponent.
“It’s really good as I think it gave the girls confidence,” Sweeney said.
Panther boys come up short against East Coweta
After a lengthy holiday break, Starr’s Mill returned home to host the undefeated East Coweta Indians on Tuesday night.
The much-anticipated home debut of new head coach Charlemagne Gibbons didn’t go as planned as the Indians spoiled the festivities with a 83-77 victory. East Coweta senior guard Fernandez Jones led all scorers with 24 points as the Indians improved to 7-0 on the season. The Panthers fell to 1-5, despite having five players reach double figures.
“We played at home and we battled our tails off,” Gibbons said. “We fought and that was what we had to do tonight.”
Starr’s Mill hung tough against East Coweta. Both teams traded baskets throughout the first half, despite the Panthers dealing with early foul trouble from senior forward Nate Allison and junior guard Jamaine Mann.
Mann eventually fouled out with 6:26 remaining in the fourth quarter. He finished with 10 points and Allison had 13.
“We were dealing with it all night and it started in the first quarter,” Gibbons said. “We had two guys, that are dominant scorers, dealing with foul trouble…It made it hard to game plan as it took a kid’s aggression away with the way they were calling the game.”
With both players on the bench, the Panthers turned to role players to step up. Junior Wesley Grant responded with 8 quick points to keep the Panthers in the game. In the second quarter, senior guard Nick Wiest came alive with 7 points of his 12 total points to keep pace with the Indians.
As a result, the Panthers found themselves down three points at halftime. Wiest matched Jones’ output as he hit a corner 3-pointer to tie the game a 32-32. He later hit a mid-range jumper to end the half as Starr’s Mill went into the locker room down 38-35.
After halftime, the Panthers faltered in the third quarter. Starr’s Mill committed three straight turnovers to open the frame. The mistakes proved costly as the East Coweta went on a 9-0 run to take a 47-35 lead.
The run consisted of two steals and a backcourt violation that gave the ball right back to the Indians. East Coweta’s defensive pressure sprung scoring opportunities for juniors Christopher Youngblood and Brandon Stroud to take advantage.
The duo scored 19 and 15 points respectively. Youngblood controlled the third quarter with 6 points in the frame. Stroud brought it home with 10 points in the fourth quarter to effectively close out the game.
Despite the loss, the Panthers continued to show improvement. They didn’t quit in the fourth quarter as they cut the deficit to seven points with a minute left. According to Gibbons, the mistakes can be corrected and that comes with practice.
“We got to learn that these are long games,” Gibbons said. “It’s hard for young guys to do. They look at the score and everybody freaks out. It’s a long game and it’s apart of the maturation and the teaching.”
The Panthers stay home to face the Sandy Creek Patriots on Friday. The Patriots pose another test, much like East Coweta, as they have elite athletes across the board. Gibbons said his team would be ready as he plans on seeing his team grow throughout the season.
“We look to forward to having a great season,” Gibbons said. “Y’all check us out in December and January.”
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