Gabby Seiler fights for two of her 23 points in the Chiefs’ big win over Starr’s Mill.
(Staff Photo by Christopher D
The hotly anticipated girls game between Starr's Mill and McIntosh did not disappoint. The Lady Chiefs pulled out a 37-33 win in the latest installment in a great rivalry.
The girls portion of the Battle of the Bubble has grown in intensity and this year was another escalation. McIntosh has established itself as a perennial playoff contender in recent years. Starr's Mill is a fast rising team with the postseason in their sights. Just last year the teams split the matchups, with the Panthers taking game one in a 40-38 thriller and the Chiefs rebounding in the rematch with a 47-27 win.
The crowd inside the Starr's Mill gym certainly appreciated the gravity of the game, bringing the noise like it was an NCAA tournament game.
"There's nothing like the McIntosh-Starr's Mill Battle of the Bubble," said Chief coach David Dowse. "It's wild. It's a lot of fun to be a part of."
"The energy is what makes it such a huge game," said Starr's Mill coach Shane Ratliff. "The students fuel the rivalry and our players love it! We are thankful that the students come out and support the program so well."
The stakes were even higher this time around with both teams off to strong starts. McIntosh now sits at 15-1 with a spot in the top five of the rankings. Starr's Mill isn't far off with an 11-4 mark. Every meeting between the two will be crucial in the fight for the postseason.
"McIntosh is always a huge game and the fact that we are so close and the girls have grown up together makes them the biggest games of the year," Ratliff said. "The rivalry couldn't be bigger with the success of the two programs. Everytime we play them it seems to be huge in regards to region standings."
McIntosh needed every second to take out the Panthers. Starr's Mill held the lead throughout the first half and well into the second half before the Chiefs could claw back.
The Panthers kept the high powered Chief offense on their toes much of the game and coach Dowse was quick to credit the job his opponents did.
"Starr's Mill is a great team. Coach Ratliff has done of fantastic job with them," Dowse said. "Scheme wise, what they did against us was as good as anything we've seen the last couple years."
The Chiefs are accustomed to raining shots on their opponents, but for much of the night they just would not fall. The team was not about to give up.
"When you watch us play, a spectator sees great shooters and great talent, but this team is physically tough and mentally tough," said Dowse. "Their will to win is as strong as I've seen in all my years coaching."
Everytime the Panthers seemed to grab momentum, the Chiefs made a key play to keep it close. Gabby Seiler's three at the buzzer helped ease a slow start in the first quarter. Maddie O'Rourke came in and made key rebounds and blocks in the paint and helped get the Chiefs out on the break. Abby Birrell crashed the boards when they needed it most.
"Abby made some incredible effort rebounds," praised Dowse. "They were critical, possession saving rebounds."
McIntosh would briefly grab the lead midway through the third frame on a baseline basket by Seiler, but Starr's Mill stole it right back on a three by Katie Wilson. Free throws from O'Rourke would keep the deficit close before a Wilson jumper put Starr's Mill ahead 29-25 heading into the final quarter.
A Danielle Garcia basket keyed the Panthers to a 33-27 lead early in the fourth quarter. They would not score again. Seilier started the Chief run with a steal and a layup. An O'Rourke feed to Christine Cerezola cut the deficit to four. Seiler was far from finishing, burying a pair of three pointers to put McIntosh ahead 35-33 with just over a minute remaining.
Birrell came up with her biggest rebound of the night on a missed McIntosh free throw, keeping possession for her Chiefs with just 30 seconds remaining. Seiler sank two more free throws to ice the 37-33 victory.
Though the outcome was not quite what the Panthers were hoping for, they are still able to take something away from the game. "I felt our girls played their hearts out and just came up short," said Ratliff.
Gabby Seiler led the Chiefs to victory with another huge all-around effort. Seiler picked up a game-high 23 points with six rebounds and four assists. Cassidy Williams picked up seven points and five boards while Abby Birrell pulled down 10 rebounds.
Katie Wilson and Danielle Garcia both poured in 12 points for the Panthers while Lexie Pappas racked up 12 rebounds.
The rivalry will reignite when the Panthers and Chiefs face off in the season finale at McIntosh on Tuesday, February 5.