Starr’s Mill and Whitewater split Friday’s anticipated basketball rivalry rematch. Now a non-region matchup, the Panthers and Wildcats tangled in a physical battle with the Starr’s Mill girls winning 41-37 and the Whitewater boys winning 68-62.
In the girls game, a tight contest was not decided until the game’s final seconds. Starr’s Mill finished strong to get a big win for momentum.
“It’s exciting and I’m so proud of them,” said coach Emily Woodward. “They did everything they needed to do to pull it out.”
Whitewater pulled out to a big lead early. A near court-length pass from Jada Coggins to Moriah Perkins keyed the Wildcats to a 6-0 lead. Starr’s Mill finally got their first basket from the floor on a Kelly Kozusko putback to make it 8-3. Alli Jones followed with a three-pointer to cut their deficit to three points before Coggins hit from long range to bump the margin to 11-6 at the end of the first quarter.
Starr’s Mill grabbed the lead at the outset of the second quarter on consecutive threes by Jones and Riley Clark. The lead swung back and forth, until Dylan Patterson’s jumper put the Panthers in front by three. Their advantage sat at 20-19 at halftime.
The Panthers increased the margin to as much as six points in the third frame thanks to another bomb by Jones. Rena Jenkins helped cut into deficit as the Wildcats pulled back within 33-30 heading into the fourth.
Both defenses stepped up in the final frame as only one shot, another three from Jones, fell in the first four minutes. Whitewater finally got back on the board when Jordan Barnett fed Perkins to pull within 37-32. They added two more unanswered buckets to make it a 37-36 game. The Panthers responded well, finishing off the game with clutch free throws from Clark and Patterson in the 41-37 road win.
“I thought we were losing focus for a little bit so I screamed at them a little bit.” joked Woodward. “They came back out and took over.”
Alli Jones paced the Panthers with 19 points, including five three pointers. Riley Clark added eight, followed by Dylan Patterson who notched six, including making a clutch four of six from the free throw line.
Jada Coggins tallied a double-double for Whitewater with 13 points and 10 rebounds, while Rena Jenkins added nine points and four assists and Jordan Barnett posted six points and five assists.
The boys game brought some relief in the form of victory for the Wildcats.
“We needed it. We needed it bad,” said head coach Fred West. “Against an around-the-corner, crosstown rival, there wasn’t much to say (to motivate). It’s Starr’s Mill.”
The Wildcats played a strong game nearly from start to finish.
“I thought we had a good game going until the third quarter,” said West. “These kids fought through it. I’m really proud of them. They finished it.”
Just like in the early game, Whitewater jumped out to an early lead. Their hot start came courtesy of Phil Garner, who sank two treys out of the gate, as they jumped ahead 10-3. Starr’s Mill freshman Zach Pina trimmed the deficit to 16-9 at the end of the first quarter with a jumper.
Whitewater kept up the pressure with a big second quarter. After Starr’s Mill got within 28-22 on a tip-in by Terence Harper and a Pina three, the Wildcats surged ahead. Garrett Watkins drained a three at the tail end of the half to send his team into the break with a commanding 36-22 margin.
Watkins kept up his hot shooting with five points early in the second half as the lead ballooned. The intensity of the game grew as well, with several technical fouls getting handed out by the officials. Harper did some good work in the paint and Zach Richards launched a three as Starr’s Mill drew back within five points at 44-39. Garrett Owen stepped up for the Wildcats with five points late in the frame, including a buzzer-beater three, to make it 52-44 with one quarter left.
Starr’s Mill kept battling. The Panthers pulled within two points on a pair of buckets from Richards, but Whitewater never let their lead slip away. Cedric Simmons was able to get to the hoop successfully twice for the Panthers. His three-point play pulled his team within 64-61 with under a minute to play, but they wouldn’t get closer. Garrett Watkins was steady at the free throw line, icing the 68-62 Whitewater win.