Monday’s Class 1A Northeast Regional semifinal game against seventh-ranked Ragland might fit that definition offensively, but defensively, the Lady Panthers were close to perfection.
Spring Garden’s game plan centered on stopping Ragland junior forward Kailey Echols
The Lady Panthers got her into early foul trouble and held her scoreless as Spring Garden captured a 41-32 victory that propels them to the Friday’s regional final at 12:30 p.m.
“We’ve kind of adopted the Baltimore Ravens’ attitude they had going into the Super Bowl. It’s not always perfect and not always pretty, but it’s us,” Austin said. “That’s where we are right now. We worried all season long about not being perfect and pretty at the same time, but about two weeks ago, I just finally decided it was time to take a deep breath and say it is what is. We just try to get from one quarter to the next right now.”
Spring Garden (19-12) will now face Cherokee County and Area 10 rival Cedar Bluff (16-15) for the right to go to next week’s state tournament in Birmingham. The Lady
Panthers and Lady Tigers have clashed three times already this season, with Spring Garden winning all three meetings.
Ragland’s season comes to a close at 23-8.
“It’ll be a challenge,” Austin said. “Cedar Bluff knows us and we know them. You play somebody as many times as we’ve played Cedar Bluff, it gets tough.
“They might have the best athlete in 1A girls basketball in Audrianna Hargitt. She may be the best athlete down here. She’s got my vote for it. She can change the game at any time.”
There were several game changers for Spring Garden in its victory over Ragland on Monday.
Senior post player Tori Pierce drew the assignment of guarding Echols. She also contributed offensively, finishing with eight points.
Sophomore guard Darian Gaines helped give the Lady Panthers an outside presence by knocking down three treys and finished with 11 points.
Fellow sophomore guard Emory Reedy sliced through the lane, making key buckets and drawing fouls. She finished with 10 points. Junior forward Haley Motes cleaned the glass for 11 rebounds. She also had three steals.
“The things we talked about coming into this, it was a little bit of everything we needed to do to win,” Austin said. “We needed good defense. We needed Echols in foul trouble. We needed to knock down some outside shots. We’ve got to attack the basket. We can’t let their press win the game for them. That’s about what we got.”
After a shaky start which saw the Lady Panthers in a 7-1 hole with 3:50 to go in the first quarter, Spring Garden settled in, going on a 10-0 run to take an 11-7 lead at the end of one. The Lady Panthers pushed their advantage to 22-16 at halftime, then began to pull away with a 34-25 lead at the end of third quarter.
“Once we get going, our energy level kind of hypes up,” Motes said. “Our team works hard to get off those easy shots and make those easy points. The energy we feed off of helps us a lot.
“We were jumpy at first, but once the points started coming, we started claming down more, which helped us a lot.”
Gaines helped that momentum with two of her treys coming in the third quarter.
Austin said Gaines constantly works on her outside shot on her own time, and it’s beginning to pay off.
“I think (Austin) has pushed me to work my hardest,” Gaines said. “He’s always told me ‘You’ve got to do more than just practice.’ That’s what I’ve taken to heart. just pushed myself, and my teammates have pushed me. We push each other to go that extra step and work harder every day.”
Freshman guard Madison Sides also connected on a pair of 3-pointers. She finished with seven points, nine rebounds, three assists and a pair of steals.
Sophomore guard Belle McKinney led Ragland with 11 points, seven rebounds, three steals and two assists. Senior guard Kia Lindsey added 10 points for the Lady Purple Devils.
“I take nothing away from Spring Garden. They’re a very good team,” Ragland coach Rush Rutledge said. “We’ve been over here six straight years, and we’ve played them four of the six. You know they’re going to be well-coached and fundamentally sound, but tonight we just played poorly.”