By Shannon Fagan, WEIS Sports Director
BIRMINGHAM – It took a little bit for Spring Garden’s 3-pointers to start falling. The top-ranked Lady Panthers’ first six treys missed the mark against Loachapoka in the Class 1A state basketball semifinals on Monday at Legacy Arena.
But once junior guard Libby Brown sank her first with 2:13 remaining in the first quarter, they started flowing with relative ease.
The Lady Panthers sank nine in the game, with four coming from Brown, in a 62-34 victory that sends Spring Garden to Thursday’s championship game for the first time since 2020. Spring Garden (35-1) will face defending state champion Marion County (20-13) for the title on Thursday at 4 p.m.
Marion County defeated Elba 68-61 in Monday’s other Class 1A girls semifinal.
“It’s a huge part of our game. We shoot hundreds every day. You hope to make five or six in a game,” Spring Garden coach Ricky Austin said of the 3-pointers. “I thought Libby did a great job of maybe being the unknown person who made a difference. I think people are starting to figure out who she is right now. She really made a name for herself tonight the way she came out. I was really proud of how she shot the ball.”
Brown scored 14 points in Monday’s semifinal. She also had three rebounds, two assists and two steals in her first game played at Legacy Arena.
But it wasn’t until Brown rattled home a trey midway through the second quarter that got her confidence soaring.
“I definitely didn’t think that shot was going in,” she said.
“I had cold chills down the court (during the game). I looked down at my arm and was like ‘this feels pretty good. The depth perception is definitely different. We shot earlier at a gym that had good depth perception for us (to help prepare them).”
“I think after that shot we started playing loose,” senior guard Kayley Kirk said. “I don’t think we were nervous anymore.”
Coach Austin said the Lady Panthers’ 3-pointers on Monday were all the more important because of Loachapoka’s size advantage.
“Their size really bothered us inside,” he said. “We didn’t think we could get a lot of points in the paint. We wanted to see what we could do from the perimeter, and we were able to knock enough down.”
Loachapoka coach Anthony Edwards said the Lady Indians (26-11) knew the 3-pointers were coming, but “we just couldn’t get to them in time.”
“We had a game plan put together, but we just couldn’t get to them,” Edwards said. “They move the ball so well, finding wide open people. We were rotating, but you’ve got to rotate a little quicker.”
Sophomore point guard Ace Austin led the Lady Panthers with 20 points, including a pair of treys of her own. She also contributed 11 rebounds, nine assists and four steals. Kirk collected 17 points, including three treys, to go along with four boards and an assist. Junior post Chloe Rule finished with nine points, five rebounds, an assist and a steal.
Junior guard Jasmyn Thomas topped Loachapoka with 12 points, including a pair of 3-pointers. Senior guard Taylah Murph tallied 10 points. She also had four rebounds, two assists and two steals. Senior forward Myana Chenier finished with six points and 10 rebounds.
The Lady Panthers led 18-13 after one, and built a 39-21 advantage at halftime. Spring Garden held a 51-27 after three quarters.
“I’m proud we’ve got a group of girls who don’t mind playing defense,” Coach Austin said. “It’s hard to play defense the right way. I think these girls do a good job of giving up their bodies and playing physical on defense, and they don’t mind contact. It is a huge part of our game.”
With Loachapoka now dispatched, the Lady Panthers can turn their attention to defending state champion Marion County on Thursday in hopes of winning the school’s eighth state basketball title.
“Very scrappy. They don’t quit,” Coach Austin said in describing Marion County. “They’re the defending state champs and they’ve gotten better all year long. They’re a very dangerous team. We’ve got to really get to work. They’re doing things now way different than they did in the middle of the season. They’re playing really good.”
“It’s been two years since we’ve been here. It’s just a great feeling,” Ace Austin said. “You really can’t describe how it feels. It just exciting and it’s just a different environment to be in. We’re excited to be back here.”