Spring Garden girls reach another regional final after routing Appalachian

Spring Garden’s Ace Austin drives in for a basket against Appalachian during the Class 1A girls Northeast Regional semifinals at Jacksonville State University’s Pete Mathews Coliseum on Wednesday. Photo by Shannon Fagan.

By Shannon Fagan, WEIS Sports Director

JACKSONVILLE – Spring Garden junior point guard Ace Austin realizes she’s going to garner much more attention now that she’s made her commitment to the University of Alabama.

And it’s not just from the Lady Panthers’ opponents either.

On Wednesday in the Class 1A girls basketball sub-regional at Jacksonville State University’s Pete Mathews Coliseum, Austin uncharacteristically picked up four fouls. They were all called by the same official.

But Austin didn’t let the calls bother her. She shrugged them off and still continued to play her game. She led the top-ranked Lady Panthers with 21 points, including three 3-pointers, along with eight steals, six assists and six rebounds in a 74-25 rout of Appalachian.

Spring Garden (30-1) improved to 35-7 all-time in regional appearances at Pete Mathews Coliseum and advances to its 21st regional final. The Lady Panthers will do battle with second-ranked Skyline (22-7) for the regional title on Monday at 3 p.m., in a rematch of last year’s regional final won by Spring Garden 69-47.

Skyline defeated Winterboro 44-39 in the other 1A girls regional semifinal on Wednesday.

“Before the season started, I had referees coming up to me and say ‘You’ve committed now. Think everybody is going to have a tight whistle on you now,’” Austin said of the foul calls on her. “I took that and let it go through my brain. I didn’t let it bother me. I’m just going to play my game.”

And play her game she did, as did the other Lady Panthers as well.

Senior shooting guard Libby Brown got Spring Garden going early by connecting on four first-half treys. She finished with 14 points, five rebounds and an assist. Brown’s 3-pointers helped give Spring Garden a 28-10 advantage after one and a 48-11 at halftime.

“We shot the ball pretty well,” Coach Ricky Austin said. “Libby got hot early and loosened up for us. I think they were playing a triangle-and-one on Ace. Then they went to a triangle-and-two, kind of an inverted triangle on Ace and Libby, but I thought the supporting cast did a very good job of doing what they need to do. It was a good game for us.”

Junior forward Maggie Jarrett added three treys and finished with 13 points. She also had six assists, four boards and three steals. Senior center Chloe Rule rang for 10 points and grabbed nine rebounds. She also had four steals and three blocks. Junior guard Avery Steward popped a pair of treys and had six points with a pair of assists.

The Lady Panthers also played well defensively. They didn’t allow Appalachian (17-12) a double-digit scorer. Sophomore center Charlie Payne led the Lady Eagles with nine points and 10 boards. Sophomore forward Graci McGuire finished with five points.

Appalachian, making just its fourth regional appearance and first since 2015, fell to 0-4 in regional contests.

“I thought our girls competed well and played hard, followed the game plan pretty good, but they’re a state title contending team,” Appalachian head coach Dusty Dean said. “Our defense was designed around Ace, just like most everybody else, but they have more than her. You might could slow her down a little bit, but when we did that the others just stepped up. They put you in a hard spot. Like I said, they’re really good.”

Spring Garden’s Libby Brown spots up for a 3-pointer in the first half of the Lady Panthers’ Class 1A Northeast Regional game against Appalachian on Wednesday. Photo by Shannon Fagan.
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