E.A. Sports Today

A shot at No. 1

JCA takes down rival Spring Garden, needs a win Friday to force a coin toss with the Panthers for top seed in area

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE – The players coming out of the Jacksonville Christian dressing room likened Tuesday night’s showdown with Spring Garden to the rivalry between North Carolina and Duke. The loyalties for the two ACC schools in the Thunder locker room are such it prompted coach Tommy Miller to call it a “split decision” relative to which Tobacco Road protagonist won.
 
“JCA won,” said Miller, a decidedly Duke man.
 
Miller’s Thunder kept their hopes alive for a No. 1 seed and hosting rights to the Class 1A Area 11 tournament with a rare 77-67 victory over the Panthers.
 
If the Thunder (15-4) can beat a two-win Coosa Christian team at home Friday night they will force a coin flip with the Panthers to determine the No. 1 seed. The Thunder has never been a No. 1 tournament seed since joining the AHSAA.
 
“Every game is important, naturally, but this was a very important game because it was the No. 1 and 2 teams in the area playing,” Miller said. “It does at least give us a chance if we can beat Coosa to be in a coin flip. I really think they (Spring Garden) shoot better at home and I think we shoot better at home, so naturally you’d rather play at home.”
 
The Thunder had lost at least 12 in a row to Spring Garden. They did beat the Panthers in a 2016 game, but had that win vacated due to an ineligible player. Before then Miller has to go back to the Drew Ferguson-Seth Alexander era in the early 2000s to recall a JCA win in the series.
 
Senior post Chase Vinson led JCA Tuesday night with 24 points, nine rebounds, five steals and six blocked shots. He had 18 points in the second half despite major foul trouble when the Thunder started taking advantage of his 6-7 frame inside.
 
“I had to be really careful,” Vinson said. 
 
Kobe Messer hit five 3-pointers and had 17 points. He also grabbed 10 rebounds. Brady Shaddix and Nash Messer had 12 and 10, respectively. Eli Fair had eight points and was praised by Miller for his defense.
 
Spring Garden’s Weston Kirk led all scorers with 33 points, hitting seven 3-pointers. Ryley Kirk had 14 points behind four 3-pointers.
 
It took a while for the Thunder to get into its offense, but it used a 12-0 run that carried into the second quarter to open a 13-point lead in the first half. Kobe Messer got the run started with back-to-back 3s. Nash Messer got the next four points and Vinson closed it with a basket two minutes into the second quarter. The Panthers (15-2) never got closer than six the rest of the game.
 
Kobe Messer kept the Panthers at arm’s length in the fourth quarter with three 3-pointers. It was a six-point game with 1:14 to play, but Vinson, the second-leading scorer in Calhoun County, scored the next six points to put the game out of reach and snap Spring Garden’s seven-game winning streak.
 
“It meant a lot to beat them; I don’t think we’ve beaten them in a few years,” Vinson said. “It was a big rival game, probably like North Carolina-Duke, so it was a really big win.”
 
When it comes to his college basketball allegiances within the Thunder, Shaddix is a Kentucky/SEC man. But he can still appreciate a win in a good rivalry. He called it “the biggest win of my basketball career.”
 
“It feels really good because we haven’t beaten him since I’ve been going to school here,” said the senior guard, who transferred from Alexandria after the Christmas break his sophomore year. “They’re a good, fast, athletic team. We just had to come out here, play good and take care of the ball, play smart and get the win.”
 
Jacksonville Christian 77, Spring Garden 67
SPRING GARDEN (15-2) –
Weston Kirk 12 2-5 33, Cooper Austin 3 0-1 6, Ryley Kirk 4 2-2 14, Luke Welsh 2 3-6 7, Lucas Byers 0 0-0 0, Chaz Pope 2 3-3 7. Totals 23 10-17 67.
JACKSONVILLE CHRISTIAN (15-4) – Tanner Wilson 1 2-2 4, Brady Shaddix 4 2-4 12, Chase Vinson 11 2-4 24, Tavian Alexander 1 0-0 2, Eli Fair 4 0-0 8, Nash Messer 3 3-4 10, Kobe Messer 6 0-0 17. Totals 30 9-14 77.
 
Spring Garden    12  13 22  20  –  67
Jax Christian       21  12 23  21  –  77
3-point goals: Spring Garden 11 (W. Kirk 7, R. Kirk 4); JCA 8 (Shaddix 2, N. Messer, K. Messer 5). Technical fouls: JCA coach Miller. Total fouls: Spring Garden 12, JCA 14. Officials: Batey, Batey, Hughes.

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