Paced by Tournament MVP Terrill Gamble’s 22 points, the No. 2 seed Panthers (21-9) served up a 69-49 victory over No. 4 seed Cedar Bluff in the Class 1A, Area 10 championship on Feb. 14 at Collinsville.
The win marked the end of the program’s six-year area title drought, when the 1998-99 Panther squad made it to the regional tournament.
The Panthers host Skyline on Friday in a sub-regional game, while the Tigers travel to Section.
No. 10 ranked Spring Garden never trailed after an early 2-0 Tiger lead, and the closest that Cedar Bluff got after the first period was eight points.
Justin Dingler contributed 14 points and nine rebounds, while Matt Jennings scored points.
Cliff Highfield pulled down 11 rebounds, while Joe Smith shot 3-for-5 at the three-point line.
Rodney Guins led the Tigers with 20 points, followed by Jeremy Bryant with eight and Matt Wilson with seven.
Derek Chesnut grabbed eight rebounds.
“Terrill was very deserving of the MVP award, but there really were two MVP’s this week – Terrill and Justin,” said Spring Garden head coach Jason Howard, whose last area championship came on the very same court in 2003 as the Cedar Bluff head coach. “Justin just played an unreal game tonight. I thought that Cedar Bluff had trouble with our bigger line-up, just like Jacksonville Christian did. Cedar Bluff had a little more playoff experience than we did, and they came ready to play. We also came ready to play, and fortunately it came out in out favor. This really is a big win, but we also have to remember that tonight is just the beginning, not an end.”
Helped by Gamble’s 11 first quarter points, the Panthers opened with a 14-4 run on the way to a 21-11 lead after eight minutes.
Spring Garden never allowed the Tigers to get back within single digits the rest of the half, with Gamble’s basket with 54.5 left extending the Panther advantage to 35-22 at halftime.
Cedar Bluff suffered a setback midway through the third period when Chesnut left the game with his fourth foul, but Guins notched six points of a 7-0 Tiger run to help his team draw within 35-27 at 5:50.
Gamble’s three-pointer 14 seconds later kick-started a 12-2 Garden run, however, and the Panthers entered the final frame leading 49-33.
Cedar Bluff failed to put together a much needed fourth quarter run, and Jennings’ nine points over the final 6:07 helped Spring Garden put the game away.
Joining Gamble on the All-Tournament team were Dingler, Highfield, Chesnut, Wilson, Collinsville’s Jake Miller and Jacksonville Christian’s Joey Webb.
SPRING GARDEN (69): Terrill Gamble 22, Justin Dingler 14, Matt Jennings 11, Joe Smith 9, Josh Humphrey 5, Cliff Highfield 4, Charles Doss 2.
CEDAR BLUFF (49): Rodney Guins 20, Jeremy Bryant 8, Matt Wilson 5, Derek Chesnut 5, Terrell Irons 5, Austin Hayes 4