E.A. Sports Today

Oh brother

Austin’s older brother helps her to prepare to face Skyline’s King, and Spring Garden’s girls emerge victorious after a grind in the Northeast Regional final.

Cover photo: Spring Garden’s girls collect their Northeast Regional championship trophy Monday in Pete Mathews Coliseum. (Photo by Joe Medley)

By Joe Medley
East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE — Ricky Austin held up a scouting report full of Skyline plays for which his Spring Garden team prepared to defend in their Class 1A Northeast Regional final.

Lots of preparation for nothing, turns out.

“We had a whole book of set plays, and we didn’t see any of them,” the veteran coach said Monday. “They had a whole new set today. all new stuff today.”

One bit of preparation did count for the Panthers. Ace Austin scrimmaged against older brother Cooper, and that helped her record an MVP performance as Spring Garden won a stall-and-grind game 51-38 in Pete Mathews Coliseum.

The victory earned the defending Class 1A state champion Panthers (31-1) the right to return to Birmingham for next week’s Final Four. They’ll face South Regional champion Elba on Monday at noon.

Austin led Spring Garden with 19 points Monday. More importantly, as Spring Garden struggled to gain separation through the first three quarters, she held Skyline’s Kaina King to six points. The Vikings weren’t able to turn their defensive and clock-chewing tactics into a lead Spring Garden couldn’t overcome.

Spring Garden, the 2024 Class 1A Northeast Regional champion. (Photo by Joe Medley)

That’s where big brother came in.

“He said, ‘I better not see your girls in double digits,’” Austin said. “So, we scrimmaged at practice, and my brother Cooper, he was her. I think that helped me.

“Going against my brother, I’m not going to let him score any.”

Experience gained from facing King at last year’s regional helped, as well, but this game was a grind for a Spring Garden team that had enjoyed a roll of postseason routs until Monday.

All-tournament pick Brinlee Potts led Skyline with 13 points, and the Vikings led 14-8 at the end of the first quarter and 24-23 at halftime.

“This is what a championship game is supposed to look like,” Ricky Austin said. “That was a fun game and a good game.

“My biggest concern I had coming in against Skyline is exactly what we saw. Their role players played very well. They had some role players shoot the ball extremely well, and the head coach’s strategy was very good. They run set plays very well … and their defense is really good. They do a good job of rotating around.”

Spring Garden took its first lead, 26-24, on an Austin jumper at 7:26 of the third quarter and led 38-33 by the quarter break.

Two Libby Brown free throws made it 48-38 with 51 seconds to play. The Panthers,who trailed by as many as nine points in the second quarter, achieved their game-best 13-point lead on two Jarrett free throws at 0:15.

“From outside, Ace come up to hug me and said, ‘Sorry about the bad game, dad,’” Ricky Austin said. “It ain’t no bad game. I told them when we left the gym, ‘This game don’t have to be pretty. We just have to win.’”

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