BIRMINGHAM – Throughout its girls basketball history, Spring Garden has had all sorts of history makers.
Eighth grade point guard Ace Austin just etched her name alongside them on Friday night.
Austin eclipsed the 1,000-point barrier in just her second varsity season with a 23-point performance in Class 2A Northeast Regional semifinal action at Altamont. She also had nine rebounds, eight assists, six steals and two blocks in the second-ranked Lady Panthers’ 69-34 victory.
Following Friday night’s output, Austin now has 1,003 points in her career.
“I want to say I’m surprised, but at the same time I’m not surprised because I know what her level of play has been since she was a fifth grader,” Austin’s father and head coach Ricky Austin said. “I’m proud we have a player in our program who can produce that kind of points at a young age. That says a lot about the type players we have in our program, when we’ve got one who can do that at a young age.
“I think it’s been a very unselfish thing for her. I’m sure in the back of her mind it’s something she’s probably thought about, but it’s nothing we’ve ever really talked about with her. It’s just part of the game. I know the work she’s done and I’m proud of her. I’m proud for her more than anything.”
Coach Austin is also proud of the performance the other Lady Panthers (32-2) turned in on Friday night. Altamont tried to slow the pace of the game down, but Spring Garden was still able to take control early.
The Lady Panthers built a 20-7 first-quarter lead and held a 34-12 advantage at halftime. They led by a 55-22 margin at the end of three quarters.
“We come out and was able to get some rhythm going in the first quarter,” Coach Austin said. “They were wanting to walk the ball down and make it a slow-pace game, but the first two minutes of the game we realized that. We kind of got comfortable. We started picking up on the ball and tried to speed them up a little bit. That was to our advantage when we were able to speed them up. Our girls kind of forgot about everything and just played basketball once the tempo of the game got where we wanted it.”
Neely Welsh tossed in 21 points, grabbed three rebounds and had an assist for Spring Garden. Abbey Steward added eight points, including a pair of 3-pointers. Lexy Adkison finished with seven points, eight boards and two steals.
The win secured yet another trip to Jacksonville State University’s Pete Mathews Coliseum for the Lady Panthers, their first as a 2A team. Standing in their way from making another trip to the state tournament in Birmingham is No. 2 Pisgah (18-5), a 69-62 winner over fifth-ranked Midfield in other regional semifinal action on Thursday.
“We know who we’re playing,” Coach Austin said. “As soon as the reclassification came out, and we saw where we ended up, and we saw where Pisgah ended up, we immediately said if you’re going to win a state championship, you’re going through Pisgah, and here we are. We’re facing a really good team, a team with a lot of experience. That home-court feeling we have of playing at Jax State, they have that same feeling also.
“We’re looking forward to the challenge. I think each possession is going to be so critical. It’s just going to be one of those games. The good thing about that is that’s how we’ve coached all year long, even when we’ve been up 30 or 40 in some games. We’ve really tried to stress the importance of each possession and getting better. We’re in a position to take one more step and try to get back down to Birmingham. That would be great progress for this program, to do it at the 2A level.”