E.A. Sports Today

Gold standard

With new uniforms, Spring Garden’s girls looked golden, played golden en route to their ninth state basketball championship.

Cover photo: Spring Garden’s girls claim their latest AHSAA ‘blue map’ state championship trophy after beating Marion County 63-31 Thursday in Birmingham’s Legacy Arena. (Photo by Joe Medley)

By Shannon Fagan
WEIS Sports Director

BIRMINGHAM – Winning a state championship isn’t as easy as the Spring Garden Lady Panthers make it seem.

On Thursday evening against Marion County, they were going for their third Class 1A state title in a year. That’s counting last volleyball season, in which much of the same group of hoops girls also experienced.

Head coach Ricky Austin said he never felt comfortable throughout the basketball playoffs because of the pressure that was building up. To help alleviate some of that pressure, he turned to a little golden incentive with the Lady Panthers’ uniforms.

For the first time this season, Spring Garden debuted their new gold game attire on Thursday at Legacy Arena in Birmingham. After their performance in them, the Lady Panthers may have just set a new gold standard.

Behind junior point guard and Alabama commitment Ace Austin’s game-high 35 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and four steals, Spring Garden captured its ninth girls basketball championship with a 63-31 victory, capping a 33-1 season.

Showing Spring Garden’s new gold uniforms, and her signature 3-point stroke, Libby Brown sends one to the basket Thursday. (Photo by Joe Medley)

Coach Austin said he had the gold uniforms ordered since this time last year, but has had “a little difficulty getting them right.”

Following Thursday’s state title, don’t look for any changes any time soon.

“They’re still not right, the jerseys, but they’re good enough to wear,” Coach Austin said. “I didn’t let the girls know they came in until last week. 

“Before we left to come down here, I knew we were going to be away (in the championship game). We’ve got a maroon one they haven’t worn and the gold ones. I just laid them out in the floor and let a couple of the girls try them on. When they walked out with the gold on, I let the

seniors decide, and they said, ‘We’re wearing the gold.’ That’s what I was hoping they’d choose, because I really like it, too.”

Tournament most valuable player Ace Austin sees a future in gold.

“From here on out, it may stick in our brain to always wear gold on championship day,” she said.

“It’ll always be something to remember, those uniforms.”

Ace’s performance is something to remember too, particularly in the third quarter. After assisting senior center Chloe Rule on the Lady Panthers’ first basket of the second half, Ace scored 14 of the Lady Panthers’ 16 points in the quarter. 

Most of those points were by her penetrating inside the paint.

“At halftime, I had to remind Ace, ‘You’re kind of skipping your mid-range jumper. That used to be the best thing about your game. Get back to it in the second half,’” Coach Austin said. “She got back to it.”

Ace Austin took advantage of how tightly Marion County guarded shooting guard Libby Brown.

“They were guarding me tight, and they were guarding Libby tight,” Ace said. “I think when they guarded Libby tight, that gave me more freedom to drive and score.

“You can’t help off Libby. She’s a knockdown 3-point shooter. She’s going to hit them. Without Libby out there being effective, it doesn’t give us the freedom to drive. I’m just proud of our team and everything we did.”

Brown sank a pair of treys and finished with six points, including the 1,000th for her career. She was just enough of a threat for the Lady Red Raiders (18-15) to keep their eyes on while Ace picked them apart on the inside.

“We had a lot of box-and-one tonight. We tried some triangle-and-two. We did diamond-and-one, 2-1-2 defense. We have nobody that can stop (Ace) one-on-one,” Marion County coach Scott Veal said. “We picked our poison and said we’re going to let Ace get hers, but we’re going to take everybody else out. 

“We didn’t do a very good job when she penetrated. We didn’t step up and stop her. You look for her to get to the hole, and she made us stop and pulled up with that five, six-foot shot that she can hit.”

When Ace wasn’t open inside, Rule and Maggie Jarrett were. Rule scored 10 points and grabbed nine boards. Jarrett managed six points and six rebounds.

“It’s lucky we’ve got some different pieces we can do things with, and it’s lucky we’ve got a player like Ace,” Coach Austin said. “It’s a pretty good compliment – Maggie, Libby, everybody’s a good compliment to what Ace can do, and Ace compliments what they do. It’s been very good

balance with what we’ve had.”

That balance helped Spring Garden take a 21-9 first quarter lead and a 34-21 edge at halftime. Behind Ace’s big third quarter, the Lady Panthers extended their lead to 50-27 and were well on their way to their latest championship.

“It really means everything,” Rule said. “We’ve been working so hard. Just the satisfaction to know we can go out this way is more than I can ask for.”

Said Brown, “Working your whole life for something like this, it feels great to be rewarded.”

Jasmine Wilson led the Lady Red Raiders with 14 points and five rebounds. Bekah Junkin rang for eight points, including a pair of 3-pointers. Lily Robinson finished with five points.

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