By Shannon Fagan, WEIS Sports Director
SPRING GARDEN – For the past two years, Spring Garden senior post player Chloe Rule has learned firsthand what head coach Ricky Austin is all about. A transfer from Hokes Bluff, Rule said she doesn’t think she could’ve gotten as far as she has without him.
For all that Austin has given Rule in a short amount of time, she was more than happy to help give something to him on Friday night in Class 1A sub-regional action against Wadley.
Rule posted one of her best games as a Lady Panther. She scored a game-high 25 points, grabbed six rebounds and had three steals in top-ranked Spring Garden’s 88-20 victory.
Not only does the win send the Lady Panthers (29-1) back to their home away from home – Jacksonville State University’s Pete Mathews Coliseum – but it was also Austin’s 750th career girls basketball victory.
Austin is now 750-168 since he took over Spring Garden’s girls program in 1996. That number includes seven of the school’s eight state championships.
“I’m so proud to be on a team to help him accomplish that,” Rule said. “He’s such an amazing coach. He has helped me tremendously these past two years. I have gone to trainers and I have been doing my own work, but he shows me things I wouldn’t ever think of. He pushes me to be my best. I’m more than proud he got this tonight and that we could get it for him.”
Junior point guard and Austin’s daughter Ace also had a big night for the Lady Panthers with 21 points, including four 3-pointers. The Alabama commitment also had 16 assists, 10 rebounds, five steals and three blocks.
For Ace, the pride is double for her.
“I was in his office earlier (on Friday) and I was looking at all the basketballs that have the career wins on them. He had one for 900 overall. I’m like ‘You know how many wins you’re at?’ He’s like ‘I don’t have a clue,’” Ace said.
“I am proud. I’ve been growing up watching him coach out there. Who knows how many wins I’ve watched him coach? I remember his 500th win. There’s a picture of me, Cooper, Riley, mom (Dana) and him standing out there. I was just a little kid. I had my socks to my knees. It just shows how much we’ve all grown up and how much work we’ve all put in. He’s put in a lot of work, not just with us, but with finding different ways to coach. I’m proud of him as a coach, but especially as my dad.”
Those who know Coach Austin know the numbers are just that to him. It’s who’s behind them that give special meaning to him.
“I just think about all the girls, all the administrators, all the assistant coaches and the community,” Coach Austin said. “That’s the big part of it that’s connected us all. That makes me happy to think about 750. Each win has connected us all together. To me that’s special, and Spring Garden’s a special place.
“I still ride through here sometimes and think we don’t have a red light, we’ve only got a general store and a post office. We’re cow pastures, corn fields and cotton fields, but we keep having these kids who just show up, want to be coached and believe that they can win. That amazes me more than anything. When I hear 750, that’s what I think about. I think about all the people.”
That number also includes the coaches he’s coached against.
“A lot of people have made me work hard, and I appreciate that,” Coach Austin said. “Wadley’s coach (Jerrell Burns) stopped me on the way to the locker room tonight and he said ‘Coach I’ve got one question. What’s the secret? Give me the secret.’ I was like ‘Coach I don’t know. I’m just blessed and fortunate.’”
Libby Brown and Maggie Jarrett both netter 13 points for the Lady Panthers. Brown sank three treys and also had five rebounds, five assists, four steals and a block. Kristen Lewis sank three treys and finished with 11 points.
A’Mya Brown led Wadley with 10 points. Celest Angel finished with eight points.
Spring Garden will face Appalachian in the regional semifinals on Wednesday. Appalachian squeaked past Athens Bible 43-42 in other girls sub-regional action on Friday.