Garden guys ground Gaylesville 64-34 to win Class 1A, Area 12 championship

Spring Garden’s John Welsh goes up strong to the basket in the first half against Gaylesville in the Class 1A, Area 12 boys basketball championship game on Monday night at Spring Garden. Photo by Shannon Fagan.

By Shannon Fagan, WEIS Sports Director

SPRING GARDEN – It’s been almost a year since the Spring Garden Panthers lost a heartbreaking sub-regional game to Oakwood Academy last year.

Panther junior forward John Welsh remembers that feeling.

“I was thinking about that before the game (on Monday against Gaylesville),” Welsh said. “I remember Coach (Levi) Hatcher saying you can either feel this way next year, or do something about it. I think everybody on our team has taken that to heart. They want to change that.”

The third-ranked Panthers have earned the opportunity to change that feeling after winning the Class 1A, Area 12 championship with a decisive 64-34 victory over the Trojans.

Spring Garden (24-4) will host Area 8 runner-up Faith Christian on Winterboro on Saturday for the right to go to the Northeast Regional at Jacksonville State University. The Area 8 championship game is Tuesday at Winterboro at 7 p.m.

On Monday night, Welsh was a big reason why the Panthers are back in the same spot they were last year. Welsh, the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, led Spring Garden with 19 points, including a key sequence late in the first quarter where he broke the game open with a pair of baskets and ones.

Gaylesville’s Caden Angle had just connected on a 3-pointer to bring the Trojans (14-18) within five at 15-10, but Welsh made sure they would get no closer. He scored the quarter’s final six points to push the Panther lead to 21-10.

The momentum Welsh gave Spring Garden carried over into the second quarter. The Panthers went on a 25-7 run to take a 46-17 halftime advantage.

Welsh scored 15 of his points in the first half.

“Our team is giving me the ball, giving me the plays to make,” Welsh said. “The people outside, our guards Cole (Bailey), Noah (Barber) and Chapel (Pope), they’re hitting shots. Connor (Bates) too. That’s opening up the middle for me and Jacob (Welsh) to get shots. It’s really fun to see that ball go in the hole, even when you don’t have to do much to get it in.”

“John is usually the guy who gives us the most on the offensive side,” Hatcher said. “He’s good inside, good outside. He likes to drive it but he’s got shooters out here and other teams know that. Either they’re going to have to let him drive or they’re going to let him kick it. He can pass it too. He’s been giving us some good rebounds. He had a lot of good help side rotations tonight, and it carried over to the defensive end tonight.”

Welsh’s twin brother Jake Welsh scored 12 points for the Panthers. Barber netted nine point, all on 3-pointers. Pope popped a pair of treys and had eight points. Bailey and Bates both finished with six points. Bates also connected on a pair of 3-pointers.

Jake Welsh, Pope and Barber joined John Welsh on the all-tournament team.

Gaylesville, which also advances to sub-regional play at the Area 8 champion, was led by Kyler Bradley’s 20 points. He also had a pair of treys. Kuper Bradley sank three 3-pointers and finished with 11 points. Both Bradleys represented the Trojans on the all-tournament team.

The past two games, the Panthers have scored a season-high 90 points and 64 against the upstart Trojans. They’ve also been suffocating on defense.

Hatcher said he likes to see that heading into sub-region play.

“We’ve talked about not peaking too early and things like that,” he said. “We talk about when you get in postseason it’s not just another game. There’s more meaning to it and more behind it.

“The guys are focused. They know what’s at stake. They know last year we had high expectations. We had a chance, but we just ran into a really good team. I told them last year to remember this feeling because when it comes back again in a year, either you’re going to feel this way or you’re going to do something about it. The guys have really bought into that. They’ve come out focused. It’s two great games we’ve played in a row now, and we’re ready to roll on to one more round.”

The Class 1A, Area 12 All-Tournament Team from left is Spring Garden’s John Welsh (MVP), Noah Barber, Chapel Pope and Jake Welsh. From Gaylesville is Kuper Bradley and Kyler Bradley. Photo by Shannon Fagan.
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