E.A. Sports Today

Scare, then flair

After scary fall, Austin returns to action and brings junior flair to senior night as Spring Garden’s girls top Oxford. Panthers’ boys open the night with victory over Donoho.

Cover photo: Ace Austin goes to the basket against Oxford on Tuesday at Spring Garden. The Panthers won 66-38. (Photo by Joe Medley)

Tuesday scoreboard

Spring Garden 54, Donoho 38
Jacksonville 52, Plainview 50
Saks 52, Faith Christian 48
B.B. Comer 65, Sylacauga 63
Cleburne County 50, Randolph County 49
White Plains 80, Lincoln 54
Glencoe 70, Gaston 30
Jacksonville Christian 67, ASD 56
Ashville 59, Pleasant Valley 26
Spring Garden 66, Oxford 38
Plainview 70, Jacksonville 44
Lincoln 59, White Plains 52
Southside 44, Hokes Bluff 13

By Joe Medley
East Alabama Sports Today

SPRING GARDEN — Ace Austin’s night against Oxford on Tuesday summed up in two moments … one that left Spring Garden’s nearly packed gym eerily silent, and one that prompted a relieved roar.

When the aftermath of the Alabama commit’s scary collision with Oxford’s JaMea Gaston and fall on her back settled, Austin wore a wrapping on her left wrist and a lived-to-tell smile on her face. 

Because senior teammates Chloe Rule and Libby Brown carried senior night, Class 1A top-ranked Spring Garden won 66-38 to sweep its annual home-and-home with Class 6A Oxford.

Rule, Spring Garden’s center, scored 12 of her 20 points in the second quarter. Brown, another key cog in the Panthers’ hopes of winning back-to-back state titles, hit six 3-pointers on the way to 22 points.

Add Maggie Jarrett’s 14 points, including three 3-pointers, and Spring Garden had plenty to roll on a night when Austin scored 10 points. 

“I wasn’t the reason we won,” Austin said. “We had Chloe (with) 20 points and 10 rebounds, Libby 20 points, Maggie and Olivia (Law), they’re the ones that stepped up big time today. Oxford’s a really good team.”

The Panthers even expanded their lead during Austin’s brief absence after her scary fall in the third quarter. 

It’s no accident. Spring Garden coach Ricky Austin experimented with sitting his daughter during the fourth quarter of a tournament game in Tennessee. He didn’t like the results, reinserted her with a 30-point lead then worked it in practice.

The Panthers showed ready for time without their Ace on Tuesday,

“I wanted them to appreciate all that Ace does,” Ricky Austin said. “At the same time, I wanted them to learn and grow. Like we call it, steady the ship.”

The necessity of Spring Garden’s learning how to play without their major-college-bound guard and fifth-year starter became all too real in the first of her juxtaposed moments Tuesday. Austin drove the lane, crashed after contact with Gaston and landed on her back, with her left wrist under her.

She stayed down, lying on her back. Oxford coach Melissa Bennett bolted from her bench to get where she could see if Ace Austin was OK. They embraced in the postgame handshake line.

“Ace is a great kid,” Bennett said. “Despite what she does on the floor, obviously, she’s a phenomenal basketball player, but she’s a great young woman.

“Any time you’ve got two kids, her and Xai going at it like that, you don’t ever want to see anybody get hurt.”

The gym sounded as if it had answered a call for a moment of silent reflection while Ricky Austin ran onto the floor to tend to Ace.
“I did notice that when I went out and bent down on my knees,” Ricky Austin said. “That’s probably the quietest during a game I’ve ever heard this gym.”

Ace Austin sat up, stood up then walked off the court, pain showing on her face. Her dad took her back in the locker room to test the wrist.

He tested her ability to squeeze with her left hand and push down with it.

“I throw’d passes to her,” Ricky Austin said. “I made her get down on her knees and shoot a ball and made her dribble with both hands, and she said, ‘I’m good.’”

To a relieved roar, Ace Austin returned to the game with 7:50 left in the fourth quarter. To a bigger roar, she dribbled right with Whitfield, Oxford’s Tennessee State signee, defending. Ace Austin stopped suddenly as Whitfield tripped and fell.

Standing unguarded, Ace Austin fired and swished a 3-pointer … her lone three and last points of the game.

She finished with 10 points, an off night by average in her latest and battle with Whitfield, a senior and two-time all-state selection who scored 18 points.

Oxford and Spring Garden have played a home-and-home series for years. As for the other game this season, Ace Austin scored 27 points and Whitfield 18 when they played at Oxford on Dec. 22.

Ace Austin’s dribble move and three reassured the Spring Garden faithful. Asked how her wrist felt after the game, she answered with her usual confidence.

“I’m not a quitter, so it’s good,” she said. “I’ve always been told not to be a baby, so I’m fine.”
Ricky Austin said Ace will likely make a doctor’s visit for what he termed a “bone bruise,” just to be sure, but it looks like this scare was just that … a scare.

“It’s always in your mind that something like that can happen,” he said. “We’ve been blessed that nothing has happened severe, and maybe this is not, but I’m proud of how she showed some toughness to want to go back in.” 

Spring Garden’s Jacob Welsh tries to score as Donoho’s Hayes Farrell defends on Tuesday at Spring Garden. The Panthers won, 54-38. (Photo by Joe Medley)


SPRING GARDEN 54, DONOHO 38: Jacob Welsh led the Panthers with 19 points. Cole Bailey added 12 and Connor Bates 11.

The game was tied 23-23 at halftime, but Spring Garden held Donoho to 15 second-half points.

“That’s a really good defensive half,” Spring Garden coach Levi Hatcher said. “Offensively, we had a little better flow, and the ball moved a little bit better.

“Any time you can move the ball from side to side, it opens up opportunities.”

Spring Garden honored five seniors between games. The group included Bailey, Matt Bearden, Caden Buttram, Chapel Pope and Henry Chaney.

Sam Johnson led Donoho with 13 points, and Jordan Cameron added 11.

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