By Shannon Fagan, WEIS Sports Director
SPRING GARDEN – In the early stages of the third quarter of their basketball game at Spring Garden on Friday night, the Sand Rock Wildcats looked as if they might pull away from the Panthers.
Already with a six-point halftime advantage, the Wildcats connected on four 3-pointers in the early portion of the third quarter to help their lead swell to 16.
But the Panthers didn’t back down.
Trailing by three on a pair of free throws by Jacob StClair with 7.2 seconds remaining in regulation, Spring Garden’s Jon Marq Rogers in-bounded the ball to Cole Bailey. The ball bounced off of Bailey’s foot near mid-court, which somehow caromed its way over to Cam Welsh. Welsh took it and sank a 3-pointer as time expired, tying the game at 53 to force overtime.
With momentum on Spring Garden’s side, the Wildcats didn’t fold.
A crucial basket inside the paint by Bradley Jackson, then a steal and two free throws by Kaden Justice helped preserve a 60-58 Wildcat victory.
“Any time you come to Spring Garden, you know it’s going to be a battle. You feel like you’re 10 points down when you walk in the gym,” Sand Rock coach John Blackwell said. “We’ve got a lot of seniors, and we should be able to hold our composure. I thought we hit free throws well and we did a lot of things right.”
Even with the Wildcats (11-5) doing a lot of the right things, Spring Garden (7-6) still found itself with one last chance to tie the game.
Welsh was fouled shooting another 3-pointer near the top of the key with time winding down in overtime. He was fouled on the play, sending him to the line for three shots with 0.3 seconds left on the clock.
Welsh missed the first shot, connected on the second, then intentionally missed the third. The ball bounced off the rim and was rebounded by John Welsh, but his putback attempt rimmed out as time expired, allowing Sand Rock to escape with a hard-fought victory.
“We come to Spring Garden and got out with a ‘W’ and that’s rare,” Blackwell said. “We’re happy.”
In a game that had so many twists and turns on both sides, Spring Garden coach Levi Hatcher said he was proud of his guys for almost pulling off a dramatic comeback.
“When we went in at the end, I said ‘Look, I’m frustrated at the calls made. I’m frustrated how we handled the end with the lead, but the way we battled and overcame (is impressive),” Hatcher said.
“Three of our main dudes had a combined seven fouls in the first quarter. If you sit there and tell me we’re going to have to play our bottom guys against their best dudes, we’re down six at halftime and they come out and make a few more shots to push it to double digits, but we’re right back in it with a chance to win it, that’s all you can ask from my guys. They battled and had a chance to pull it out. We just didn’t close the door.”
StClair had another impressive performance for the Wildcats. He scored a game-high 32 points, including an 11-of-12 performance from the free-throw line. He also connected on three treys.
“The first couple of times we played (this season), we guarded him pretty well. Tonight we just kind of let him get loose and lost a couple of backside rotations,” Hatcher said of StClair. “He’s a tough player. You don’t score 2,000 points if you’re not a good player.”
Justice rang for 10 points and grabbed three rebounds for Sand Rock. Jackson scored seven points, pulled down 11 boards and took three charges. Ben Dale delivered six points on a pair of 3-pointers and had eight rebounds.
For the game, the Wildcats shot 14-of-18 from the charity stripe. Meanwhile, Spring Garden was just 6-for-17 from the free-throw line, including just 1-for-8 in the first half.
Jake Welsh topped the Panthers with 22 points. John Welsh came away with 19 points and Cam Welsh had 10 points, including three treys in the fourth quarter.
“All three of them did well,” Hatcher said. “Jake finished some inside. John lays his heart on the court every time out. Cam had to go to a different role and bring the ball up some at the end when Chapel (Pope) went out (with foul trouble). Sometimes you ask guys to do different roles on the fly they’re not used to doing, but they responded to that.
“I really was pleased with the way we responded. Maybe a few more free throws here and there, one call here or there, but we gave ourselves a chance to win, and that’s all you can ask for.”
Spring Garden 77, Sand Rock 37
SPRING GARDEN – Libby Brown and Ace Austin both rang for 26 points in leading the Spring Garden Lady Panthers to a 77-37 victory over Sand Rock on Friday.
Brown sank five treys for Spring Garden (18-0). Austin added 13 rebounds, nine assists, five steals and a block. Kayley Kirk connected on three 3-pointers and had 12 points. She also had four boards, three assists and two steals.
Zoey Handy led Sand Rock (9-9) with 13 points. Katelyn StClair came away with 12 points, including a pair of 3-pointers. Peyton Johnson finished with five points.
Sand Rock held a 16-15 advantage following a Handy basket with less than two minutes to go in the first quarter before the Lady Panthers surged ahead to take a 25-16 lead by the end of the quarter. Spring Garden then went on a 25-6 run in the second to take a 50-22 edge at halftime.