By Shannon Fagan, WEIS Sports Director
JACKSONVILLE – All basketball season long the Spring Garden Lady Panthers and Skyline Lady Vikings have been the top two teams in Class 1A girls basketball.
Their paths will finally cross on Wednesday.
Top-ranked Spring Garden did its part to keep things on a collision course with a 71-30 thumping of Winterboro in the Northeast Regional semifinals on Monday. Number two Skyline did the same against Jefferson Christian in a 73-23 victory.
It will be the two teams’ sixth meeting at Jacksonville State’s Pete Mathews Coliseum and first since the 2020 regional semifinals. Spring Garden won that game 66-37. The year prior, Skyline ended the Lady Panthers’ season with a 60-53 victory in the regional final.
“It’s not a surprise,” Spring Garden coach Ricky Austin said of facing the Lady Vikings. “As soon as we dropped back down to 1A, I think Skyline went to the top of our thoughts. It’s probably the same way in their locker room. They probably looked straight back at us when we dropped back down to 1A. They’re good and I feel like we’ve got a good team. It should be a great game. We’re excited. We heard they wanted us.”
Sophomore point guard and Coach Austin’s daughter Ace Austin, who led Spring Garden with 24 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds and three steals on Monday against Winterboro, said the Lady Panthers (34-1) are “very hungry” to put the past two years of disappointment in the Class 2A regional final against Pisgah behind them.
“Those two losses the past two years haven’t slipped out of our minds,” she said. “Every day at practice, there’s something brought up about getting beat by Pisgah two times in a region championship. We’re not going for a third time getting beat in a region championship.
“I know they (Skyline) say they wanted us, but we want them right back. Right when we heard what they said right after their county championship, we wanted to play them that day. We’re ready.”
Spring Garden was its dominant self early against Winterboro (22-6) on Monday. The Lady Panthers jumped out to a 23-7 advantage and held a 36-13 edge at halftime. They led 54-23 after three quarters.
Junior guard/forward Libby Brown also had a solid performance. She collected 22 points, including four 3-pointers, with six rebounds, two assists and a steal.
“Libby played a good second half,” Coach Austin said. “The first half she didn’t shoot the ball well. She got a couple of easy buckets and settled down. To have never played in this environment – she was down here last year with us and played – but with it being a little more on her shoulders, the growth I saw from last year to this year out of her was tremendous. I’m very proud of how she’s handled that.”
Sophomore forward Maggie Jarrett contributed eight points, 11 boards, two assists and a steal. Coach Austin is also proud of how far along she’s come as well.
“We really felt like this is where she would’ve been last year, but volleyball injury and then another basketball injury last year kind of put her on ice last year,” Coach Austin said. “This is what we expected out of Maggie last year. Blue collar, grinds every day. In her mind she thinks she’s 6-5 I think. She really thinks she’s a big girl and has that attitude.”
Senior guard Kayley Kirk finished with five points for Spring Garden.
“That’s a good ball team,” Winterboro coach Lamonyn Burney said. “It would’ve taken everything we had, not making a lot of mistakes, to beat them.
“The game plan was to try and pick (Ace Austin) up at half court and pressure the middle, make her pick it up and have to kick it out and make somebody else beat us, but she got going and got in her zone. It was hard to stop her.”
Ketelyn Jones led the Lady Bulldogs with 16 points, including a pair of 3-pointers. Katelyn Brown delivered eight points, four boards and two steals. Kya Brown finished with six points and five rebounds.