However, 10th-ranked Skyline isn’t like most teams the Panthers have faced this season.
The inside presence of 6-foot-7 center Jacob Walker coupled with the guard play of senior Travis Sisk was just too much for the Panthers to overcome. The duo helped end Spring Garden’s season at 18-14 with a 63-48 loss Monday in the Class 1A Northeast Regional semifinals at Jacksonville State University.
Skyline (23-7) advances to meet sixth-ranked Ragland on Friday at 2:15 p.m., for the right to go to the state tournament. Ragland defeated second-ranked Collinsville 54-49 in overtime in the other Class 1A boys regional semifinal on Monday.
“I think the best team won,” Spring Garden coach Ricky Austin said. “I thought Skyline was very solid. We were real worried about their inside game as well as how they shot the ball. You have to respect both. They’re hard to stop, but I was proud of my guys for battling. We made a game out of it.”
Spring Garden trailed by a bucket at the end of the first quarter at 13-11, but the Vikings put some distance in the game with a 20-11 run in the second quarter to take a 33-22 lead into halftime. The Vikings maintained an 11-point cushion at 46-35 heading into the fourth quarter.
“We come out a little flat, but we kind of built a little momentum as the game went on,” Skyline coach Ronnie McCarver said. “We got us a 10-12 point lead and kind of kept it at that.”
But holding that double-digit lead was bit precarious, thanks to Panther junior post player Will Westbrook and Whorton.
Westbrook muscled his way for 14 points, four rebounds and three blocked shots.
Whorton scored a game-high 21 points, grabbed five rebounds and had a pair of steals.
“We were trying to keep those guys from making threes, but we didn’t do a good job of it,” McCarver said of the Panthers, who drained nine total treys. “I haven’t seen anybody who can catch it and shoot it that fast. We knew we would have to give up something when they put the two posts (Westbrook and senior Jake Grogan) at the blocks. I wasn’t expecting 32 (Westbrook) to play that well.”
Austin said Westbrook has grown into “a solid post player for us.”
“He had a fantastic game inside,” Austin said. “I thought he showed some toughness. He doesn’t realize it yet, but he’s a senior now. His junior game is over now.”
Austin also lauded Whorton’s effort.
“Logan can get hot, and he can spark us, but we just couldn’t get those two enough shots tonight,” Austin said.
Westbrook, who stands at 6-4, drew the tough assignment of the 6-7 Walker.
Walker netted 15 points, grabbed six rebounds and blocked three shots for the Vikings.
“He was tough,” Westbrook said of Walker. “He was pushing me around, but I just had to be tough, like coach said, and get in there and hit shots. That’s what I tried to do.”
As difficult as Westbrook found things down low, Whorton felt the same from the outside despite connecting on seven treys. He finished the game going 7-for-17 from the arc.
“I never got an easy shot,” Whorton said. “They guarded me well, and it was hard to get a look to the inside. When I had a shot, I took it, but they played really good defense.” Junior guard Jay Prater had the Panthers’ other two 3-pointers. He finished with six points.
Sisk led the Vikings with 20 points, eight rebounds, six assists and a pair of steals. Landon Gilliam added 13 points, seven boards and four steals. Gage Swinford finished with eight points and four rebounds.
Despite the loss, Austin feels this Panther team helped raise the bar for future Spring Garden boys basketball teams.
“We’ve played some ugly basketball the past three years, but I’m so proud of these guys,” he said. “We got hot at the right time, and along with that, we got confidence. It’s something that this group and this boys’ program has been lacking for a long time.
“We beat Cedar Bluff in the area tournament. We played Collinsville tough. We went on the road and beat Shades Mountain Christian. We come down here and played hard tonight. They’ve put a spark back into Spring Garden boys basketball. It’s a group I’ll never forget.”
Added Whorton: “We’ve come a long way. We didn’t think we were going to make it to this point, but we just kept getting some fire in us.”