Garden girls’ dream of an undefeated regular season goes by the wayside

By Al Muskewitz, East Alabama Sports Today

OXFORD – Jamea Gaston hadn’t had much success with her shot during the game, but when she let that 3-pointer go late in the fourth quarter Friday, she just knew it was good.

The junior guard’s 3-pointer with 1:29 to play was the sharpest dagger in a closing run that lifted Oxford to a 59-53 win over Spring Garden, handing the Class 1A, No. 1 Lady Panthers their first loss of the season in the final regular-season game of the year.

It was her only bucket of the game.

“In the first half I wasn’t really hitting many shots, so I felt like in the second half, since it was a big time, I just had to hit that 3,” Gaston said. “Once it left my hand even though I’ve been off I knew that one was just going in.”

Interestingly, Gaston’s 3 came from virtually the same spot the Lady Jackets lost a made 3 by Mya McGrue on the previous exchange when coach Melissa Bennett was granted a time out right before the shot. It would have given Oxford a 54-48 lead with 2:13 to play. Instead, it fell on Gaston some 45 seconds later.

“I really didn’t know that,” Gaston said. “I think it was just the momentum from that spot just carried on.”

The Lady Panthers (29-1) were one of the last two remaining undefeated girls teams in the AHSAA and were trying to lock up their second undefeated regular-season in program history. They last led 48-46 with 3:23 to play before Oxford went on the 10-0 tear that gave it the game.

Ace Austin hit a three-quarters court shot at the buzzer to forge the final margin. It was an anomaly to say the least. The Lady Panthers were 9-for-29 from the 3-point line, just two of their first 10.

“When you’re having a hard time getting points in the paint you’re going to have to knock down some,” Spring Garden coach Ricky Austin said. “If we hadn’t have hit the ones we did it would have been real ugly, but it wasn’t enough to make a difference.”

Now that the prospect of an undefeated season is gone, the Lady Panthers are turning their focus elsewhere.

“It doesn’t matter if we finished up 30-0 or 29-1, we’ve got to go 7-0 starting next week and that’s the most important thing,” Spring Garden coach Ricky Austin said. “It doesn’t matter if we finished 15-15 or 30-0, our focus right now is to be 7-0.

“Sometimes a loss can do good. I know everybody says that a lot when it happens like this, but they beat us. They beat us in more ways than just physically. I thought they wanted it, especially the first two minutes of the third quarter. I thought they did a really good job of coming out and hitting us in the mouth and we didn’t handle that real well.”

Austin’s game-ending 3-pointer gave her 11 for the game. Kayley Kirk had 13 with three 3s. Libby Brown hit four 3-pointers and led Spring Garden with 18 points.

Oxford was led by its Big Three – Xai Whitfield (15), Justice Woods (20) and McGrue (11).

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