Will Anda gets to the rim for two of his 15 points.
(Staff Photo by Christopher Dunn)
The Starr's Mill Panthers are starting to get used to heart stoppers. The Panthers were on the right end of a thriller as they topped the Whitewater Wildcats 44-43 on a buzzer beater Tuesday night.
The Panthers and Wildcats are building a nice little rivalry as two of the area's fast rising teams. Last year, the Wildcats won both meetings, highlighted by a close 47-44 showdown late in the season. Starr's Mill got a measure of revenge with this one.
"This was a great win for our program. Whitewater had our number last year," said Starr's Mill head coach Brandon Hutchins.
Hutchins spoke highly of their emerging rival, "We have a lot of respect for coach (Jason Barnes). He's got a great team."
A tight game deserved an exciting finish and this one surely did not disappoint. Down late in the fourth quarter, the Panthers were able to bear down and pull out a shocker. Jeremiah Vrudny came through in the clutch, banking in the final shot as the clock expired. The Panther fans exploded onto the court to celebrate big win.
"Our guys never gave up, that was the key," said Hutchins. "We got the bucket when it counted."
"It's always good to pull out a win like that," Hutchins said. "I know how Coach Barnes feels. It's not a good feeling."
The loss will be a bitter pill to swallow for Whitewater as they had a number of opportunities to ice the game, but they could not put it away. In the last minute of the game, the Wildcats missed seven free throws that could have put the game out of reach. With just twelve seconds left, one Wildcat had a steal and a breakaway from a dunk to make it a three point margin but he was whistled for traveling. It will be a stinging loss, but they have the talent to bounce back.
The game started out tight as Starr's Mill led 7-5 after one quarter. Will Anda came off the bench and provided the Panthers with a spark, penetrating to the hoop and creating looks for his teammates. Whitewater's Darius Sharpe had the highlight of the quarter with a steal and a two handed jam. Sharpe would also feed David Bowler for a bucket to put the Wildcats ahead 19-17 heading into halftime.
Sharpe and Junaid Olusesi helped put the Cats up by five before Anda responded with a three and another bucket to knot it up. Baskets from Brannon Wilson and Vrudny put Starr's Mill ahead 30-29 heading into the final frame.
One of the biggest stories of the game was Starr's Mill's ability to keep Philip Cofer in check. Cofer, monster junior for Whitewater, was limited to just three points.
"You have to stop Cofer," said Hutchins. "He's so big and plays around the rim, he can take over a game. Our plan was to keep him off the board."
While Cofer was held in check, Starr's Mill got 14 out of their big man Jeremiah Vrudny, including the game winner. WIll Anda led the Panthers, and all scorers with 15. Darius Sharpe led Whitewater with 13 points followed by Junaid Olusesi with 10.
The victory runs Starr's Mill's record to 11-7. They will host McIntosh in their hotly anticipated showdown today starting at 7:30 p.m. Whitewater's record drops to 8-8. they will travel to play McIntosh on Tuesday night.
Earlier in the night, the Starr's Mill Lady Panthers made quick work of Whitewater by a score of 68-28.
The Lady Panthers were in control throughout, running their record to 11-3. Katie Wilson led all scorers with 11 points. Lexie Pappas follwed with 10 while Madison Highland chipped in nine.
"It was an all-around team effort. All 11 girls played their tails off," said Starr's Mill head coach Shane Ratliff. "When we play as a team we're hard to stop. Everybody was doing it on the offensive end and on the defensive end."
The Lady Panthers have a great matchup ahead of them when they face the 13-1 McIntosh Lady Chiefs tonight.
"We're real pumped about it. I'm trying to keep them even keeled. We don't want to get over excited and play tight," said Ratliff.
Whitewater has improved greatly of late, but the loss drops their record to 8-7. Jordan Barnett led the Wildcats with 10 points.