Coming off Thanksgiving break, the Starr’s Mill Panthers look primed for region play after a sweep of the Heard County Braves Tuesday night.
Even with a week away from the court, the Lady Panthers showed little rust in a 48-41 win.
“It was a really good win for having a week off,” said Coach Emily Sweeney. “I saw some good things, I saw some bad things, but we played hard and never gave up.”
Holding a narrow 13-11 lead after one quarter, the Panthers heated up from deep. Ashtyn Lally and Alice Anne Hudson each hit a 3-pointer as they led 22-17 at the halftime break.
Another Lally three stretched the lead to ten points midway through the third, and the Panthers turned up the pressure. Hudson and Alyssa Angelo set up several key buckets in transition as the Braves struggled to slow down the fast break.
“They’re not scared of running the fast break and getting out and going,” said Sweeney. “It’s nice to be able to have somebody grab a rebound and take it coast to coast and not be afraid to make the crazy pass.”
Leading 33-24 heading into the final frame, they took some strong punches from the Braves. The Panthers diversified their attack to keep them off balance, Emily Nieuwstraten hitting a deep jumper and Ali Rumpel adding a putback in the paint.
Heard County got as close as six points with two minutes to play, but Angelo put them away with a pair of drives to the hoop. A bit of icing from the charity stripe capped the score at 48-41.
The young squad with just two seniors is starting to come together under their first-year coach in Sweeney. They’ll continue to sharpen up in anticipation of their region schedule.
“We still have a long way to go,” she said, noting that she has stayed with most of last year’s system while slowly implementing new pieces. “It’s going to take a while, but I think we’re up to the task.”
The Starr’s Mill boys may be down a pair of key contributors, but they didn’t skip a beat in a 64-12 rout.
“We needed a game like this. We’re beat up,” said Coach Brandon Hutchins, who is without All-County player Nate Allison for a couple weeks with a sprained ankle and Nick Wiest for the season with a torn ACL. “We’re the walking wounded right now, but to get everybody in the game and work on some stuff we needed to work on before we start region play next week, that was a good game for us.”
The Panthers might feel like they’re banged up, but they left the opposition battered and bruised. Their zone defense stifled the Braves, limiting them to just one 3-pointer each in the first two quarters as they built an insurmountable 27-6 halftime lead.
“What’s won us our first three games is defense, and that’s what we pride ourselves on,” Hutchins said of their zone defense look. “With how big we are, it’s hard to get a shot off.”
The gap didn’t narrow any as the Panthers kept shooting the lights out. After three quarters it was a 52-11 lead, and the Braves only mustered one point more in the 64-12 beating.
Drew Hudson led the way with 21 points, flashing a deadly outside shot and an array of post moves, though he easily could have racked up more if they hadn’t called off the dogs. Eight players ended up scoring for Starr’s Mill.
“Hudson’s a player,” Hutchins said of his star who is averaging a double-double a night through the early season. “What can you say? He comes to play every night.”
Chase Sands, fresh from the football playoffs, heated up in the second half to finish with 14 points. He’s just another tall weapon for the Panthers.
“Size isn’t going to be our issue,” said Hutchins. “We’ve just got to keep getting better.”
The Panthers get another non-region tuneup Friday night on the road at Newnan before they open the region slate on the road Tuesday, December 5 at McIntosh in the Battle of the Bubble.
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