E.A. Sports Today

All in the family

Spring Garden, Anniston make their success a family affair

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

Ricky Austin holds a place in his heart for every Spring Garden girls basketball team he has ever coached, but there’s an element to the current group that makes this year’s team “a little more special.”

Every team embraces the idea of family and togetherness, but the Lady Panthers (32-2) – and Class 5A Anniston, too — are really living it.

Austin will have three nieces in his starting lineup when Spring Garden plays top-ranked Brantley (27-2) in Monday’s noon 1A girls semifinal at the BJCC — junior Madison Sides and eighth-graders Payton McGinnis and A.J. Broome. In addition, wife Dana, the former Jacksonville State women’s coach, is one of his assistant coaches.

“That does make this a little more special, because family’s so involved in it,” Austin said.

Sides said it was “awesome” to be playing alongside her cousins. The Lady Panthers are hoping that togetherness will carry them through their first trip to the Final Four together as a team.

“We’re more than cousins, we’re pretty much sisters because we’re together all the time,” she said. “We have a really, really close family … and having a small team of only nine that makes it even better; that makes us family, too.”

The Lady Panthers’ rich athletic family lineage extends beyond the three players. Payton’s mother, Jana — Dana’s twin — is the JSU softball coach. The other two players’ dads played every sport at Spring Garden.

“They’ve been raised in it and they have a high expectation and a high standard of their team,” Austin said. “When I saw them at a young age — fourth and fifth grade — I could not wait to get them on the floor as players because of how their motor runs.

“Their motor runs unbelievably high every day. Being my kinfolk and my nieces just makes it a little more special and makes me able to coach them a little bit harder maybe and I hold them to a little higher standard.”

Anniston coach Eddie Bullock knows how that feels. He has had some family member on his team every year since 2010.

This year he has three nieces – Ki-Yana, Miajah and Jemya Bullock – and two distance cousins – Carsheuna Curry and Takia Shears – on his roster. They’re all expected to have an impact when the Lady Dawgs (27-8) play Brewbaker Tech (24-4) in Wednesday’s 6 p.m. Class 5A girls semifinal.

“We’ve got a little thing all of them are either my nieces or my daughters,” he said. “I call them all Bullocks, and that’s the way they act. They know I’d do anything for them. They know how I am and I know them.”

Both coaches have more relatives waiting in the wings, so the family connections will continue for a long time.

On the cover: Eighth-graders A.J. Broome (3) and Payton McGinnis are two of the three cousins in Spring Garden’s starting lineup; the other is junior Madison Sides. (Photo by Shannon Fagan)

AHSAA Final Four

Monday’s Games

Class 1A girls
Decatur Heritage (23-5) vs. Keith (27-5), 9 a.m.
Spring Garden (32-2) vs. Brantley (27-2), noon

Class 1A boys
Phillips (26-5) vs. Sunshine (24-4), 10:30 a.m.
Sacred Heart (24-8) vs. A.L. Johnson (14-4), 1:30 p.m.

Class 2A girls
Red Bay (23-9) vs. Holy Spirit (24-2), 3 p.m.
Section (22-6) vs. Geneva County (23-8), 6 p.m.

Class 2A boys
Tanner (13-13) vs. LaFayette (23-5), 4:30 p.m.
Vincent (22-9) vs. Elba (20-6), 7:30 p.m.

Spring Garden vs. Brantley

Coach: Ricky Austin (19th year, 473-135)
Record: 32-2
Winning Streak: 24
Past state championships: 1987, 2004, 2005, 2008
Last time in state tournament: 2010
Starters: A.J. Broome, 5-4 8th G (2.7 ppg); Madison Sides, 5-8 Jr. G (8.8 ppg); Tykeah Rogers, 5-9 Jr. C (18.8 ppg); Darian Gaines, 5-8 Sr. G (9.1 ppg); Payton McGinnis, 5-4 8th F (5.7 ppg).

Coach: Andrew Kilcrease (10 years)
Record: 27-2
Winning Streak: 18
Past state championships: 2013, 2014
Last time in state tournament: 2014
Starters: Sydnee Bryan (6.0 ppg); Payton Burnett (18.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg); Saquaya Lane (11.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg); Amahni Upshaw (10.1 ppg, 11.9 rpg);
Alex Wilcox (1.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg).

Notes: Spring Garden has won every tournament in which it participated this season … Savannah Dempsey is shooting 36 percent from 3-point range, Gaines (60 3s) and Sides both over 30 percent … Rogers averages just under 10 rpg. … Brantley was No. 1 in the final regular-season prep poll … Burnett and Bryan are both shooting over 40 percent from 3-point range. … Upshaw averages 8.1 assists … Wilcox has 58 blocked shots.

Sacred Heart vs. A.L. Johnson

Coach: Johnney Ford (1st year, 14-4)
Record: 14-4
Winning Streak: 8
Past state championships: none
Last time in state tournament: 1st time
Starters: Jeremy Mitchell, 6-0 Sr. G (11.3 ppg); Charles Edwards, 5-10 Sr. G (8.4 ppg); Tywon Scott, 6-3 Sr. C (9.0 ppg); Sherman Kennedy, 6-2 Jr. G (14.6 ppg); Desmond Mair, 6-0 Jr. F (12.3 ppg)

Coach: Ralph Graves (4th year, 91-27)
Record: 26-8
Winning Streak: 17
Past state championships: none
Last time in state tournament: 2014
Starters: D.J. Heath, 6-1 So. G (20.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg); Kevion Nolan, 6-1 So. G (18.0 ppg, 3.9 rpg); Kavarri Ross, 5-10 So. G (15.5 ppg, 1.3 rpg); Diante Wood, 6-5 Fr. F (19.0 ppg, 10.5 rpg); Keith Orlowski, 6-2 Sr. F (2.6 ppg, 2.4 rpg).

Notes: Heath, the MVP of the Calhoun County Tournament and NE Regional, needs three points for 700 on the season. … Ross needs four for 500. … A.L. Johnson is first boys team from Marengo County to make Final Four … Team averaged fewer than two wins a season the last four years and hadn’t won an area game in more than four years … Its last area title was 2000 … Ford is in his first year as a basketball coach.

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