E.A. Sports Today

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Spring Garden girls continue their championship ways by winning the team camp title at Champions Sports Academy

Alexandria and Spring Garden played for the championship of the Champions Sports Academy girls play date tournament. Spring Garden won the summer event for the second year in a row.

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

The last time the Spring Garden girls basketball team was seen in a tournament setting, it was celebrating a state championship in the middle of the BJCC Legacy Arena floor, the final act of redemption for the one that bounced away the year before.

The first time the Lady Panthers hit the floor in a tournament setting since that glorious day they were celebrating another title, this time in the Champions Sports Academy girls play date tournament.

If the Lady Panthers are looking to win it all again – as senior guard Payton McGinnis suggested after they dispatched Alexandria 62-29 in Thursday’s championship game – and bring a glorious close to this senior class’ legacy, they were off to a pretty good start.

“When we formed up to leave the gym this morning I said this is a tournament format, let’s do what we do,” Spring Garden coach Ricky Austin said. “We’re supposed to be in championship games if that’s who we are, so let’s find a way to get in the championship game and let that take care of itself.

“You’ve got to play in championship games to learn how to win them. You can’t not be in championship games and then just show up in one and understand how to win it. We work hard to get into championship games when we have format that way so we can learn how to win them.”

Despite having what Austin called their first “real” team practice of the summer just Wednesday, the Lady Panthers went 3-for-3 in the tournament; they beat 5A Munford 62-11, 6A Oxford 49-27 and 5A Alexandria. The Lady Cubs beat Ranburne and Cherokee County before falling in the final.

Spring Garden has lost only two games in the Champions facility since it opened two years ago – both earlier this month in summer camp games to Collinsville and Handley (without Austin for one and McGinnis for both). The Lady Panthers have never lost in a tournament setting, winning the last two summer tournaments and last fall’s regular-season Thanksgiving tournament.

“This is a big deal to us,” McGinnis said. “Summer, fall, right in the middle of your season, whatever it is, you go out to win and I feel like this tournament win is going to be the start of a good season. Who wants to go into their season knowing they didn’t have a good summer?”

A year ago the Lady Panthers went into the season with redemption on their mind after losing in the previous year’s state final in the closing seconds. The way that game ended burned in them all season and they finally exorcised those demons with a dominant 52-38 win over Phillips in the finals. With all but two players back from that team, the watchword for year also starts with ‘R’ – repeat.

“As a team we don’t really have (a motto) yet, but I think all of our mentality is the same,” McGinnis said. “I think it’s let’s do it again, let’s have the same year as we did last year. One is not enough; we want to keep it rolling. Let’s do it again, let’s keep finishing; keep fighting.”

It’s all about finishing off the legacy that’s already rich. The six seniors have gone to the state finals all four years they’ve been with the varsity – winning in alternating years – with a record of 121-18.

Those seniors are McGinnis, A.J. Broome, Katie Williams, Madison Jennings, Kristen Tierce and Chloe Jarrett. They’ve gone 32-3, 25-8, 31-4 and 33-3 in their four varsity seasons.

“When these seniors were seventh graders, they went 28-2, won the county (junior high) championship and we immediately challenged them to leave an unbelievable legacy behind,” Austin said. “That is still the same thing we have focused on. This year you have one more year to enrich your legacy.

“It’s unbelievable what they’ve done – two state championships, two runnerups – but we’re just challenging them not to take any type of shortcut and think I’ve been there, we’ve won that. If you want to do it again, let’s don’t wake up one day and let it slap us in the face ‘what happened.’ We’re going to go backwards if we take small shortcuts along the way and that’s going to damage the legacy that y’all have a little bit.”

Oxford finished third in the tournament, beating Cherokee County in the consolation game 34-21. The Lady Jackets will play in Piedmont Friday, but they’ll be shorthanded as three players, including their top two returning scorers, are committed to playing in an AAU Tournament this weekend.

The boys tournament takes over at Champions Friday. The championship game is tentatively scheduled for 7 p.m.

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