There was a sellout and an overflow crowd. The noise inside was so loud you couldn’t hear the person next to you. Every basket drew the reaction of a game-winner. It wasn’t a state championship game. It was the Battle of the Bubble. Starr’s Mill and McIntosh played before a truly special house on Friday night, the Chiefs edging out a pair of wins over a hard-nosed Panther program.
The McIntosh boys came into the game with as big a bullseye on their back as they’ve ever had. Off to a flawless start, the Chiefs knew they were going to get the best the Panthers had to offer. They always do. The Chiefs took the blows and won 62-50 to run their record to 20-0.
“As far as Starr’s Mill, they did a great job as always. They’re always well coached,” said McIntosh coach Jason Eisele. ”They always come in with a game plan that makes it really difficult for us. They made it really tough for us. Every bucket was hard to come by tonight.”
Though they didn’t come away with the upset they wanted, the Panthers have more than a few things to be proud of from their performance. Their defensive intensity was impressive as they forced the Chiefs to claw for every point. Eric Sutliff drew the unenviable task of guarding Jordan Lyons, but he responded perfectly. He hounded Lyons all night, holding him to just one made shot from the floor.
With Lyons the focus of the defense, the rest of the Chiefs did their share.
“Braxton Shaw stepped up real big in the first half. He’s one of those that can just shoot the lights out,” said Eisele. “Chase (Walter) pulled down a lot of rebounds, and Will (Washington) distributed the ball well.”
Starr’s Mill held a lead in the early moments of the game. It was wiped away with a thunderous Chase Walter dunk off a Will Washington drive and dish. Dunk number two came on a fast break, Jordan Lyons feeding Washington for a flying alley-oop. Much of the first quarter offense came from an unexpected source as Braxton Shaw sank a trio of threes. Zach Pina hit a trey for Starr’s Mill to narrow the gap, but McIntosh held a 17-13 lead after the first quarter.
The Panthers sliced the lead to just one point at times on a three by Zach Richards and Pina and a Sutliff bucket before the Chiefs padded their margin. The Chiefs did much of their work in the second quarter from the charity stripe, drawing fouls as they drove to the hoop. Shaw sank another trey and Washington hit on a floater at the end to make it a 35-27 halftime advantage.
Pina started the second half with another three, but the Chiefs responded emphatically. Dishon Lowery threw down a one-handed dunk, then Jordan Lyons stole the ball and finished the breakaway with a jam. The Panthers kept pushing, tallying a pair of buckets in the paint from Terence Harper and a slick reverse layup from Sutliff. Within seven points, they dramatically slowed down the tempo of the game, trying to keep the Chief offense in check. McIntosh’s 47-40 lead would hold going into the final quarter.
Starr’s Mill got as close as they would get down the stretch when a Pina jumper made it a six-point game. Will Washington answered by burying a layup with contact, then sank the ensuing free throw, to put the Chiefs back up by nine. They padded their lead from there with a vicious two-handed slam from Lowery that looked like a vintage Shaq throwdown rattling the backboard. The Chief lead ballooned to double digits, but a pair of Sutliff treys kept the Panthers in the game late. McIntosh finished strong with a comfortable margin in a 62-50 victory.
“It always takes a lot out of us to win that game. Whether we win or lose, it’s just an emotional game,” said Eisele. “I tell the guys going into the game to just enjoy it. Even some of the guys that go onto play in college might not have that atmosphere again. It’s fun to be a part of.”
The Chiefs got five players in double digits. Chase Walter led the way with 14, followed by Will Washington with 13, Braxton Shaw and Jordan Lyons with 12 apiece, and Dishon Lowery with 11. Lowery pulled down 12 rebounds, and Washington dished out nine assists.
Eric Sutliff led the Panthers in scoring with 21 points. Zach Pina added 11.
In the girls game, McIntosh shook off an early deficit, then ratcheted up the pressure en route to a 42-25 victory.
The Lady Chiefs knew they were going to face a sturdy test, especially after winning the last matchup on a buzzer-beater three.
“They are all special in their own way, but I told the girls before the game there was something about this game coming in, and maybe it was the way the last one ended, that I knew it was going to be a little bit chippier, a little bit harder fought, and it was,” said McIntosh coach David Dowse. “I’m really really proud of my team.”
The Panthers made McIntosh earn their points.
“Starr’s Mill is a team that is really coming on. Shane (Ratliff) is doing a great job with that group,” praised Dowse.
The win pushes the Chiefs to 14-6 on the season, and they feel like they’re just starting to hit their stride.
“We’re also a team that’s coming on. We’ve got a mixture of some really experienced kids and some really young kids, and it’s taken some time to gel in the way we play and personality-wise. It took some time to get know each other,” said Dowse.
Dowse was especially pleased with the defensive effort of his girls against a very talented team. The Chiefs held the Panthers 15 points below their average, including limiting them to just one bucket from the floor and four points total in the second and third quarters.
“Cassidy (Williams) did a tremendous job in guarding a very good player in Alli Jones. Kimmy (Edgeworth) did an outstanding job on Riley Clark, who is very quick,” said Dowse. “The team did their job. They stuck to their game plan.”
Starr’s Mill fired the opening shots, racing out to a 7-0 lead on buckets from Carly Pressgrove and Kelly Kozusko and a Natalie Orcutt three-pointer. McIntosh responded with threes from Cassidy Williams and Samantha Coffey, but the Panthers stayed ahead on four more points from Kozusko and a Pressgrove trey. Delayne Rotolo’s putback at the buzzer pulled the Chiefs within 14-11 after the first quarter.
From there, the Chief defense locked down. The Panthers would score just four total points in two quarters, two on free throws from Orcutt before the half and two on a Riley Clark layup late in the third quarter.
The second frame belonged to Cassidy Williams, as she sank four threes for 12 of her game-high 25 points. A commanding 27-16 halftime lead turned into 32-18 following a low-scoring third quarter.
The fourth saw an increase in scoring, with a number of players from both sides chipping in. Kimmy Edgeworth, Madison Emmet, and Rotolo joined Williams in the fun for McIntosh. Pressgrove, Orcutt, and Michaela Cushing handled the load for the Panthers. The Chiefs kept their cool down the stretch and sealed up a 42-25 win.