by Rob Grubbs
On a picture-perfect afternoon for baseball, the Whitewater Wildcats traveled to Starr’s Mill to face off against the Panthers in the first of a three-game series between the county rivals. Starr’s Mill has gotten off to a quick 5-1 start and were fresh off weekend wins against Marist and Loganville, while the Wildcats were looking to rebound from losing a tightly-contested, region series last week to McIntosh.
Whitewater coach Rusty Bennett would go with junior Reid Kasten on the hill to start game one, while Starr’s Mill would counter with senior and University of North Georgia signee Jake Arnold. The game, which was originally set for Tuesday and pushed to Wednesday due to rain, started out as a pitching duel with both hurlers getting in and out of early jams. Arnold worked out of a bases loaded situation in the first inning with a big strikeout, while Kasten would get out of the second inning with a runner on third and one out, getting back-to-back strikeouts to close the frame. Of the four innings that Arnold pitched for the Panthers, he ended three of them with a strikeout, each time with runners on.
Starr’s Mill struck first, scoring two in the bottom of the third after getting consecutive hits to start the inning from Matthew Sutton and Jake Blinstrub. After a perfect sacrifice by Kyle Evert to move the runners up, Brian Port and Hayes Heinecke added RBI singles to give the Panthers a 2-0 lead. With the bases still loaded and one out, Kasten was able to escape the inning without further damage with a curiously called infield fly and a deep out to right field.
After four innings from Arnold, Starr’s Mill coach Brent Moseley went to his bullpen and brought in Chance Amell, a Spartanburg Methodist signee, to close out the final three innings.
After two quick outs in the top of the fifth, Whitewater would scratch out a run as Daniel Langston laced a single to score Austin Gardner, cutting the Panther lead in half and gaining some needed momentum.
The Panthers would seize control in the bottom half of the inning. After a hit, a walk, and a sacrifice by “Careless Whisper” walk-up song third baseman Tyler Courtney, Moseley called on a pinch hitter, junior Charlie Mizell, who drilled a pitch to deep left center to score bother runners, putting the Panthers ahead 4-1. Two batters later, junior Mitchell Sutton hit to the same part of the park, but just a little further as it cleared the left-center fence for a two-run homer.
Amell retired seven of the final eight Whitewater batters to close the game out for the Panthers. With an 8-1 win, they remain unbeaten and tied for the top region spot with Griffin. For the Wildcats, Stone Kasten, Austin Gardner, and Daniel Langston had two hits each. Will Thomason stopped the last Panther rally by getting the third out of the sixth with a swinging strikeout.
Moseley was pleased with the offensive output, but was quick to point out they needed to get hot and stay hot.
“We were a little behind because of the extended basketball season, but we seem to be finding our swing from top to bottom of the lineup,” he said. “It was good to get the production from the lower part of the order and good to see the long ball that utton hit. We will need more of that this year. We need our hitters to pick up the pace.”
They will have ample opportunity as the series shifted to Whitewater Thursday night and then back to Starr’s Mill for the series finale Friday.