By Shannon Fagan, WEIS Sports Director
CEDAR BLUFF – Spring Garden girls basketball coach Ricky Austin said the Lady Panthers have a chip on their shoulder this season.
The past two years in Class 2A have ended in heartbreak in the Northeast Regional final against Pisgah. This season, Spring Garden moved back down to its traditional 1A, and they’re taking no prisoners.
So far, 13 of their 14 games have been running clocks in the fourth quarter, including Tuesday night’s victim, the Bremen (Ga.) Lady Blue Devils in the championship game of the Alabama ONE Cherokee Girls Basketball Invitational.
Behind four players in double figures and a suffocating defense, the top-ranked Lady Panthers crushed Bremen 67-20.
“It’s not intentionally trying to run the score up on folks. I’m not looking at the scoreboard. I’m just coaching,” Austin said. “I feel so bad for those two teams I thought were really good that had to go against some really good teams, but we never whined and complained. We just felt unfortunate. We had a big cross with the best team in the state (Pisgah). I haven’t vented yet I guess. I’m still venting. I hope it doesn’t stop. Maybe it took something like to tell me I’ve been too satisfied. There’s no satisfaction in me right now.”
And there’s no satisfaction in the Lady Panthers (14-0) either. They jumped out to a 21-3 first-quarter advantage and led 36-5 at halftime.
Surprisingly, one of the four players not in double figures was sophomore point guard Ace Austin. She only finished with five points in the game, but she made her presence felt in other areas. She also accumulated 10 assists, nine rebounds and seven steals.
“I’m sure there were a lot of people here who wanted to see Ace play tonight,” Coach Austin said. “Somebody just watching the game may say she had an off night, but when you look at her steals, her rebounds and assists, she almost had a triple double with only five points. That’s phenomenal.
“We talk about all the time how to affect the game when you’re not scoring, how to do the other things. You’re going to be guarded. You’re going to be off, but you can’t let that affect other things. That might have been one of Ace’s better games. She didn’t score much, but she still had such a strong impact on the game in other phases. Everybody around her stepped their game up.”
One of those players was junior forward Chloe Rule. She led the Lady Panthers with 18 points, six rebounds, two blocks, a steal and an assist.
“Chloe is getting better and better every time she plays. We’re seeing that right before our very eyes,” Coach Austin said. “Her coming into her own and feeling comfortable at our pace, that’s another reason why we keep playing the pace we are. We’ve got girls who haven’t played at this pace. We want to see them keep getting better. Chloe has adjusted to that pace. If we’re shutting things off in the first or second quarter, we’re not getting to the point we need with players. We’ve got to get to that point.”
Kayley Kirk collected 13 points, seven rebounds, four assists and a steal. Libby Brown sank four 3-pointers and also had 13 points to go along with five rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block. Maggie Jarrett finished with 12 points, four blocks, three assists, two rebounds and two steals.
Mary House and Marley Darringer both had six points to lead Bremen. Shelby Underwood finished with five points.
“It’s pleasant to watch their hungriness, to want to play defense,” Coach Austin said of the Lady Panthers’ suffocating defensive effort. “It’s fun to see them smile and get excited about getting a steal, taking a charge, getting a defensive rebound. I’m having fun and I think they’re having fun.
“This is a fun group with a lot of energy and a lot of weapons. We have a standard we preach every day at practice, and I cannot back off of that standard until we’ve proven something. We haven’t proven anything. We’re trying to play to our standard still.”