Spring Garden girls capture 11th straight area basketball tournament title with win over Cedar Bluff

The Class 1A, Area 12 girls basketball tournament champion Spring Garden Lady Panthers. Photo by Shannon Fagan.

By Shannon Fagan, WEIS Sports Director

SPRING GARDEN – Up until their Feb. 3 regular-season basketball finale at Class 6A Oxford, the Spring Garden Lady Panthers had been throttling the competition. However, their hopes of a perfect season faded away with a six-point setback.

The loss has given head coach Ricky Austin what he called “a real good opportunity to emphasize some things that we weren’t doing well that we were trying to emphasize.”

“When you have a loss and you watch film, it seems like you get their attention more,” Austin said. “I had a very attentive team at practice Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. They’re paying a lot more attention to detail.”

And the Lady Panthers have picked up right where they left off.

On Tuesday in the Class 1A, Area 12 opener, Spring Garden crushed Coosa Christian by 56 points, and on Thursday in the area championship game against Cedar Bluff, the Lady Panthers earned an 80-39 victory for their 11th straight area title.

Coming off recent food poisoning, sophomore point guard Ace Austin delivered 26 points, 13 rebounds, nine assists, seven steals and two blocked shots to earn the tournament’s Most Valuable Player honor. The younger Austin didn’t use that as an excuse for how the Lady Panthers played at Oxford.

In fact, she didn’t even mention it.

“They say you can fall, but make sure you get back up, don’t stay down,” she said, eating a chocolate brownie while being interviewed. “Our team, when we get down, we don’t ever stay down. We’re going to make sure we’re going to get back up and keep working and keep going forward.

“We don’t like losing, but that loss was good for us. It really made us refocus. We’d be playing every game undefeated (in the postseason). It’s got a little bit of pressure with it, but you have no pressure now. It’s made us all refocus and lets us know we’ve got to work harder.”

Her head coach and father said he noticed “a little bit more bounce about her tonight.”

“I thought she started climbing back out of her sickness a little bit,” Coach Austin said. “We didn’t think she was going to be able to play against Handley. We played her a little bit. The Oxford game, she was maybe 60 percent. She was bad sick. She’s got her appetite back, no doubt. She lost a couple of pounds. I didn’t think she was back very sharp physically (Wednesday) at practice, but I saw it today (Thursday) at shoot around. It takes a while to recover.”

Ace Austin scored 11 of her points in the first quarter, in which the Lady Panthers (31-1) led 33-9. Spring Garden’s lead swelled to 56-18 by halftime.

Kayley Kirk contributed 15 points, including three 3-pointers. Libby Brown added eight points. Chloe Rule, Maggie Jarrett, Olivia Law and Maggie Reedy each had six points. Kirk, Brown, Rule and Jarrett joined Ace Austin from Spring Garden on the all-area tournament team.

Kylie Vadon led Cedar Bluff (12-15) with 14 points. Ciana Smith finished with six points. Vadon was chosen to the all-tournament team, along with Jacksonville Christian’s Kara Grace.

Both teams advance to sub-regional play on Monday. Spring Garden hosts Area 15 runner-up Woodville, while Cedar Bluff travels to Area 15 winner Skyline. Both games are scheduled for a 6 p.m. tip off.

The Class 1A, Area 12 Girls All-Tournament Team. From left is Spring Garden’s Ace Austin (MVP), Kayley Kirk, Maggie Jarrett, Chloe Rule and Libby Brown, Jacksonville Christian’s Kara Grace, and Cedar Bluff’s Kylie Vadon. Photo by Shannon Fagan.
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