by Raynard Churchwell
In a rivalry filled with many close games in its history, Saturday’s game between the Starr’s Mill Lady Panthers and the Whitewater Lady Panthers may go down as one of the best between the two schools. Both teams played their hearts out and did all they could to win the game, but it was the Panthers who were able to hit clutch shots and press their way to a 61-55 double-overtime victory.
As the regular season swiftly approaches an end, every game is critical for teams trying to make the playoffs, and Starr’s Mill now holds an overall record of 14-6 and are currently tied for first place in region standings. Whitewater falls to 11-9 on the season and remains in fifth place in region play.
Offense was in short supply early, as both struggled to hit shots in the first quarter. Starr’s Mill was able to jump out to on early 7-1 lead. then Whitewater went on a 7-2 run of their own. The back-and-forth tempo would continue throughout the game as both teams played tough defense and held each other to low scoring through the first three quarters. The lead throughout changed hands repeatedly and remained at two points or less at the end of the second and third quarters.
In the fourth quarter things started to heat up. Starr’s Mill’s Alice Anne Hudson began the quarter with a huge 3-pointer. Their game plan shifted to attack the interior as Jada Claude was in foul trouble, but Courtney Smith came up big for the Wildcats as she was able to drive and get into the paint at will.
As the clock dwindled down to two minutes left. Smith hit two clutch free throws to give Whitewater a one-point lead. Claude pulled down a huge rebound and knocked down a pair of free throws with 10 seconds left to stretch the lead to three points.
Unfazed, in the play of the game, Starr’s Mill’s Ashtyn Lally hit a deep 3-pointer, banking it high off the glass at the buzzer. The crowd went crazy as the shot tied the game at 46-46 to send the game into overtime.
“Honestly, we drew up a play and it didn’t work so well, so I just took it to the top of the key and threw it up,” Lally explained. “That is by far the biggest shot of my career.”
In overtime, both teams came out with renewed defensive intensity. Each team only managed to score in the first overtime as they headed into a second overtime tied 48-48. In the second overtime, Lally would hit another huge 3-pointer to continue the battle. Claude fouled out, and the Panthers hit all of their free throws to put the game out of reach and seal up a 61-55 victory.
“Whitewater didn’t make anything easy for us,” Starr’s Mill coach Emily Sweeney said. “Last year we were beating teams by double digits, but in the playoffs we couldn’t finish the close games, so games like this will set us up well for down the road.”
Hester led Starr’s Mill with 20 points, while Hudson scored 15, and Lally added 14.
In the loss, the Wildcats dynamic duo accounted for all of their team’s 55 points as Courtney Smith posted 36 points, and Jada Clauded added 19 points and 11 rebounds.
As region play continues, every game is critical for those who are fighting for seeding and playoff spots, and the boys game between Starr’s Mill and Whitewater was no different. In a low-scoring defensive battle, the Panthers were able to take care of the Wildcats in a 46-34 victory.
With the win, Starr’s Mill reaches .500 on the season with a record of 10-10, while Whitewater falls to a record of 10-11 on the season with the loss. Currently, both teams sit in the middle the 5A Region 3 Standings with Starr’s Mill in 3rd place and Whitewater in fourth place.
The game started out slowly with neither team scoring a point in the first three minutes. Starr’s Mill’s Daryl Rice found his jump shot and scored a quick four points, but both teams played tremendous defense as each team was held to a low shooting percentage with a score of 10-4 at the end of the first quarter.
In the second quarter, both sides came out with a little bit more aggression. Starr’s Mill was able to drive into the paint and get some foul calls, but Whitewater would not go away quietly as they heated up from 3-point range. K’won Bush hit big shots to keep the Wildcats in the game, and Whitewater would cut the deficit to as little as two points, but Starr’s Mill went on a run late in the quarter to take a six-point lead into halftime.
Starr’s Mill started to run away with game in the second half. They came out controlling the boards and forcing Whitewater to make careless mistakes. Continuing their emphasis on defensive efficiency, they limited the Wildcats to only five third quarter points, as Whitewater had no answers offensively. They Mill also began to heat up from 3-point range as they hit from deep on three of their last four possessions.
In the fourth quarter, Whitewater came out with good energy, but they were unable to hit easy baskets. Starr’s Mill continued to play great defensively and held Whitewater to their lowest point total of the season in the win.
What impressed Starr’s Mill’s coach Charlemagne Gibbons the most about his team was their effort.
“I was proud of the guys fighting today,” he said. “We didn’t score the ball the way we wanted to, but the guys fought defensively and held them into the 30s, so you have got to be proud of that.”
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