by Rob Grubbs
Starr’s Mill softball celebrated senior night for its lone graduating player, Shelby Daniel, on Monday in their regular season finale against Riverdale. Daniel wasn’t done celebrating, as she decided to continue the fun into the first round of the Region 3-AAAAA playoffs as the number two Panthers took on three seed McIntosh Chiefs Wednesday night at Panther Field. The winner of the best-of-three set would earn the opportunity to play for the region championship next week.
Behind the power hitting of Daniel and Laura Sellers and solid pitching, the Panthers swept the Lady Chiefs 14-0 and 8-0 to force the matchup starting Tuesday, October 4 against county rival and top seed Whitewater, who swept Griffin 12-0 and 8-2 in their first round matchup.
In the first game, Daniel hit a first inning, 3-run homer that vanished into the pine trees beyond the left field fence to give the Panthers enough runs for the win as starting pitcher Wakana Sato pitched the shutout, only giving up two hits. Sellers would finish the game 3-3 with 2 home runs and 5 RBI, while Lea Dubin, Kate Ashmore, and Abbey Brady would also join the hit parade.
Starr’s Mill coach Mark Williamson gave the ball to starting pitcher Paige Andrews for the second game, and it started in a similar fashion, Daniel again hitting a first inning home run, this time an opposite field shot towards her Senior Night sign still displayed beyond the right field fence.
While McIntosh’s senior pitcher DeLayne Rotolo pitched with grit and resolve in both games, the Panthers’ potent line up eventually wore her down to complete the sweep.
Andrews pitched a complete game, holding the Chiefs hitless until the fourth inning, constantly relying on her defense to make plays. Morgan Hurd started a last chance rally in the fifth inning with a leadoff double, but was erased at home trying to scratch out a run on a ground out to first.
Alyssa Angelo went 3-3 in the second game with 3 RBI, and Sellers added another RBI. The evening belonged to Daniel, as she finished the doubleheader showing the versatility of a Swiss Army Knife – she went 3 for 3 with 2 home runs, scored 5 runs, drove in 6, walked twice, stole a base, executed a perfect sacrifice bunt that scored a run, made two catches in left field, and caught Andrews’s shutout in the second game, making the tag on Hurd as she tried to score.
Afterwards Williamson reflected on what it will take to beat Whitewater. “We just have to hit the ball. We have be aggressive and put pressure on their defense, that’s our game.”
For McIntosh, catcher Hayley Gill had a strong night behind and at the plate, reaching base safely in each at bat. She finished with 2 hits and 2 walks and kept Rotollo focused in the circle.
Daniel reflected on her Starr’s Mill career afterwards as she scanned the now empty field but was more focused on the games ahead. On her opposite field home run in game two, she said, “After I pulled the ball in the first game, she pitched me outside, and I went with it.”
Daniel hopes the offense continues the momentum against Whitewater. “We just need to hit like we did tonight.”
With first round state playoff games on the horizon, Starr’s Mill has guaranteed themselves one more home series against a still undetermined Region 1-AAAAA opponent from South Georgia, but for now the focus is on Tuesday night at Whitewater for the region crown against always tough Whitewater pitcher Sarah Middleton. The Chiefs will travel for their first round matchup, which will begin Wednesday, October 12.