E.A. Sports Today

‘Very hungry’

After two years without a Final Four, Spring Garden downs Winterboro to earn another shot at the Northeast Regional final

Spring Garden’s Ace Austin drives against Winterboro during their Northeast Regional semifinal Monday in Pete Mathews Coliseum. She finished with 24 points. (Photo by Greg Warren)

By Joe Medley
East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE – Two years is a long time for Spring Garden’s girls to go without a Final Four. The Panthers have no interest in making it three.

“We’re very hungry,” sophomore all-state guard Ace Austin said. “Them two losses in the championship the past two years, it hasn’t slipped out of our minds.”

The Panthers breezed back to the Northeast Regional final Monday, forcing 21 turnovers and holding Winterboro to 27 percent shooting to win 71-30 in the Class 1A semifinals.

The victory put Spring Garden (34-1) back into the Northeast Regional final for the 20th time in 21 appearances. The Panthers, ranked No. 1 all season in Class 1A in the Alabama Sports Writers Association poll, will play Skyline in Wednesday’s 4 p.m. final.

AHSAA reclassification bumped Spring Garden up to 2A for two years, and the Panthers lost to Pisgah in the 2021 and 2022 regional finals. Lipscomb signee Molly Heard went on to lead her team to state titles both years.

Pisgah dropped down from 3A the same year Spring Garden bumped up from 1A.

“Every day at practice, there’s something brought up about getting beat by Pisgah two times in the region championship,” Austin said. “We’re not going for a third time getting beat in the region championship.”

A Spring Garden clash with Skyline creates a No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown in the regional final. Spring Garden is 3-2 against Skyline at regional, including victories in the 2017 and 2018 finals.

Skyline fans reportedly chanted in hopes of a rematch after the Vikings won the Jackson County tournament.

“They said they wanted us, but we want them right back,” Austin said. “When we heard what they said after their county championship, we wanted to play them that day.”

Spring Garden dropped back down to 1A for the current reclassification cycle, and it put the on-going rivalry at regional back in play.

“As soon as dropped back down to 1A, Skyline went to the top of our thought,” Spring Garden coach Ricky Austin said. “It’s probably the same way in their locker room. They probably look straight back at us.

“It’s two to good teams. In 1A, I don’t think there’s any any better than either one of us. There’s some just as good as us.”

To get there, Spring Garden made quick work of Winterboro on Monday. Ace Austin scored 24 points, and Libby Brown knocked down four 3-pointers en route to 22.

Spring Garden also got eight points and 11 rebounds from Maggie Jarrett.

It was more than enough to counter 16 points from Winterboro’s Ketelyn Jones.

The loss marked a hard end of the road for Winterboro, which finished 22-6, but the Bulldogs saw major progress.

“I can’t complain, coming from a five-win season last year to winning 22 this year,” Winterboro coach Lamonyn Burney said. “They’ve just all been buying in and trusting the process.”


SPRING GARDEN (34-1) – Ace Austin 11-21 2-3 24, Kayley Kirk 2-8 0-0 5, Chloe Rule 2-5 0-0 4, Libby Brown 9-16 0-0 22, Maggie Jarrett 4-6 0-1 8, Olivia Law 1-2 0-2 3, Kristen Lewis 1-2 0-0 3, Maggie Reedy 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 31-63 2-6 71.
WINTERBORO (22-6) – Ketelyn Jones 7-20 0-6 16, Kya Brown 3-6 0-0 6, Katelyn Brown 2-11 3-4 8, Zakhia Buchanan 0-3 0-0 0, Rachel Headen 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 12-45 3-10 30.
Spring Garden       23        13        18        17 –     71
Winterboro     7         6        10         7 –     30
3-point goals: Spring Garden 7-27 (Austin 0-5, Kirk 1-5, Brown 4-10, Jarrett 0-2, Law 1-2, Lewis 1-2, Reedy 0-1); Winterboro 3-24 (Jones 2-12, Kya Brown 0-3, Katelyn Brown 1-7, Headen 0-2). Total fouls: Spring Garden 8, Winterboro 14. Fouled out: none. Officials: Matthews, Sowards, Morris.

Cover photo: Spring Garden’s Kayley Kirk surveys the scene against Winterboro in their Class 1A Northeast Regional semifinal Monday in Pete Mathews Coliseum. (Photo by Greg Warren)

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