Above, the Lady Panthers celebrate after the final buzzer in their 2-0 win over McIntosh. (Staff Photo by Christopher Dunn)
The McIntosh-Starr's Mill soccer rivalry has been brewing for years, boosted by some of the state's most talented boys and girls players. The 2014 edition was another classic as the McIntosh boys and Starr's Mill girls claimed thrilling wins on the Panthers pitch.
Top notch play was to be expected and the teams did not disappoint. All four squads are currently ranked in the top ten of AAAAA. Both the boys and girls of McIntosh came into the game in first place, while the Starr's Mill boys and girls were ranked ninth and fifth respectively.
Though McIntosh is ranked as the top team in the country, Starr's Mill gave them everything they could handle in a 3-1 game. The Chiefs knew to expect that.
"It was a very hard-fought game. (Coach Mike Hanie) always has Starr's Mill very well prepared," credited McIntosh coach Bunky Colvin.
Starr's Mill certainly wasn't scared off by any rankings. They came screaming out of the gates with a goal just over five minutes into the match. The tally came courtesy of Jack VanNimwegen with an assist by Tylan Jones.
"They got that first look and they finished it. It was a great play," Colvin said of the strike. "Tylan Jones is very dangerous coming forwards and he finished it. He's a great player."
McIntosh didn't let the early deficit take them off their game. They ratcheted up the pressure on the Panthers from the first kick. Starr's Mill got a sterling effort in net from Mitch Pattison, who made amazing save upon amazing save.
The Chiefs were kept off the scoreboard in the first half, but they had plenty of ammo left. They finally found the back of the net less than seven minutes in. Carson Brooks launched an inbounds deep into the box that Ian Berryman headed in to knot up the score.
Just past the midway mark of the half, the Chiefs swiped the lead. This time Brooks took it himself when he shot a laser just over the head of Starr's Mill's keeper.
The Chiefs added an insurance goal with under three minutes to play. Didrik Cooper-Seip kept with it and drilled in a rebound after the Panthers blocked a pair of good Chief shots.
The tough battle may be just what McIntosh needs as they gear up for what they hope is another championship run.
"We had to put forth every bit of energy. We not only had to be a talented team. We had to be a team with a lot of heart," said Colvin. "I think that's the biggest thing we take out of tonight, that we have the heart of a champion and when we need to, we can dig deep and get it."
The Lady Panthers did everything exactly as they had hoped in a 2-0 victory.
Coming into the game, Starr's Mill that with a win, they could create a three way tie for the region championship with McIntosh and Northgate. A two goal win would lock up the region's top playoff spot. The race was so tight between the trio that it would take a fourth tiebreaker to pick the top seed.
"The girls worked hard. We've been fighting. They just didn't quit," said Starr's Mill coach John Bowen. "It's a rivalry game so that just adds to it. We had a chance to finish as the one seed, so it's nice."
Now the Panthers are right where they want to be. They've battled through a tough region and now they have a state title back in their sights.
"We've talked about maybe there's a chapter we don't like in the book, but let's see how the books turns out," said Bowen. "I have to hand it to them. Every game this year they have stuck with it and fought to the very end. Tonight was just another example."
The first half was a tremendous back and forth battle. Both teams mounted good attacks, but were turned away. McIntosh's Hannah Graham and Starr's Mill's Paige Betsill were fantastic in net.
Starr's Mill would go on the attack in the second half. Molly Moroney nearly broke the scoreless tie minutes in on a breakaway, but Graham made a superb save. The Panthers thought they scored with 24 minutes left, but Lauren Yoss was ruled offside.
Finally, with less than 14 minutes to play, Starr's Mill got the first strike. Rachel Catlett's free kick would be misplayed and trickle over the goal line for a 1-0 lead.
The Panthers would take advantage of another miscue to ice the game with a minute to play. Lauren Yoss would get the assist and Moroney would drill it home off another misplayed ball for the nail in the coffin.