The high school baseball season has yet to reach the mid-way point, but a key series in Region 3-AAAAA this week will probably decide the top spot. The Starr’s Mill Panthers, who won the Region Championship last year in route to their final-four appearance, are undefeated in region play and have a strangle hold on the lead. Their crosstown rival, the McIntosh Chiefs, still have a say in the matter and need a series sweep to stay alive in the standings. On a picturesque afternoon, the first game after daylight savings time issued in longer sunlight, the Panthers got a three-hit shutout from Wofford commit Hayes Heinecke and timely hitting from Mitchell Sutton and Sean White for a 2-0 series opening win.
Starr’s Mill lost of a lot of their offensive punch from last years team, and Head Coach Brent Moseley has turned the focus a bit towards small ball, but his pitching is as strong as ever. His starting rotation includes three senior D-1 commits, Dawson Sweatt for Auburn and Nathan Price for the Air Force Academy join the Wofford bound Heinecke. McIntosh Head Coach David Munoz has some talented starting pitching of his own, but just of a much younger variety. He has two freshman, Burke Berry and Braxton Roop to go along with senior Connor Koscevic. Berry got the start in game 1 and went toe-to-toe with Heinecke for five innings before the Panthers got their two runs in the bottom of the sixth.
The Panthers looked to take an early lead against the Chief freshman, after a one out single by Mitchell Sutton, Charlie Mizzell sent a Berry pitch to deep left field, but Mitch Maxwell made an incredible catch against the fence to rob the homer and keep the Panthers of the board. Bolstered by the defensive play, Berry found his rhythm and pitched ahead in the count to most batters. But Heinecke was just a tad better, he did not give up a hit until the top of the fourth when Andrew Pinckney laced a single up the middle to break up the no-hitter.
Heinecke seemed to dig down deeper after the hit by striking out the next three. The Chiefs got two runners on in the sixth, only to see that inning end with a strike out. It appeared as if Heinecke might face the same fate from his last start, when he pitched 7 innings of shutout ball against Whitewater but left with no decision as the Panthers needed three extra frames to secure the win.
That changed quickly in the bottom of the sixth, when Sutton drilled a 2-1 pitch over the left field fence – just a bit higher than the ball Maxwell caught in the first inning. Sutton said afterwards, “He had given me curve balls and change ups most of the game, but he came in with a fastball and I hit it well.” Mizzell followed with a single and Coach Moseley went to his small-ball repertoire and got back-to-back sacrifices from Price and Hunter Lawson and was rewarded with a two-out single from freshman Sean White for the 2-0 final score.
Heinecke, who has only given up six hits in his last fourteen innings while striking out 20, said “I felt really good, my fastball was good, and I could command it really well and I have a great defense behind me. My fastball moves a lot and use that to my advantage to keep hitters of balance.
Sutton finished the game 3-for-3 with the winning homerun while Jake Blinstrub reached base in both of his at-bats when he was hit by pitch. In addition to Pinckney, Dane Kinamon and Jake Bukowski had hits for McIntosh.
The Chiefs look to even the series on Thursday at home where Coach Munoz knows they need a win, “We got a great start tonight from Berry and played great defense, they got a couple of hits when they needed it and we did not, so we tip the cap to them and their pitcher, and we come back Thursday.”
They will look to their senior Koscevic to put them back in the win column and get the overall series win. There is a lot of ball left to play, but urgency is needed for the Chiefs to claim the region title.
Burke Berry 6IP 5H 2ER 3SO
Dane Kinamon 1-for-3
Andrew Pickney 1-for-3
Jack Bukowski 1-for-3
Starr’s Mill Panthers
Hayes Heinecke 7IP 3H 0ER 6S0
Mitchell Sutton 3-for-3 HR 1 RBI
Sean White 1-for-3 1 RBI
Charlie Mizzell 1-for-3 1R
Jake Blinstrub 0-for-0 2HBP