SPRING GARDEN – By his own admission, all the sitting and waiting to play their Class 2A girls basketball subregional game against Ider had Spring Garden coach Ricky Austin ready to explode.
Turns out the top-ranked Lady Panthers were too.
Spring Garden was hot from the start on Wednesday afternoon, jumping out to a 22-point first-quarter advantage to cruise to a 71-34 victory. Ace Austin and Abbey Steward both rang for nine first-quarter points. All of Steward’s points came off 3-pointers in the Lady Panthers’ 29-7 lead.
By halftime, their edge swelled to 52-14.
“I can say today at shoot around, we were all pretty focused,” said Ace Austin, who led the Lady Panthers (31-2) with 25 points, including a pair of 3-pointers. She also had seven assists, six rebounds and five steals. “We were all ready for this game. We were all ready to play. When games got moved (because of winter weather), we were all mad. We were like ‘Let’s go on and play.’ We were just ready to play.
“Stew came out hot. I’d say our defense might have been the best it’s been. We were knocking down some shots. That’s a great feeling when everybody on the team is hot.”
Coach Austin said he felt better getting Wednesday’s game out of the way. Now the Lady Panthers can focus on their trip to Altamont in the Class 2A Northeast Regional semifinals.
“This sitting and waiting doesn’t do anything but build up pressure. I was ready to play, and I think the girls were too. They had a big explosion in the first half, and I was pleased with that,” Coach Austin said. “If you can come out with a lot of energy and throw the first punches, I thought our girls did a good job of getting us a good lead early. I thought we had a spark there in the first half. I thought we played pretty sharp and pretty crisp.”
Ace Austin scored 21 of her points by halftime. Sarah Kate McKay rang for 16 for the game, and Lexy Adkison added 12 points and eight rebounds. Steward and Neely Welsh finished with nine and eight points respectively. Welsh also had four boards, two assists and two steals.
With Spring Garden firmly in control, about the only drama left was when sophomore guard Kayley Kirk briefly entered to shoot a pair of free throws following an Ider technical foul with 5:29 remaining in the fourth quarter. Kirk had not seen game action since having surgery on her right knee following the Lady Panthers’ season opener against Oxford.
Kirk connected on the back end of her two shots.
“She actually got permission from the doctor to warm up with us just an hour before game time, so we got her uniform out of the closet,” Coach Austin said.
“I was proud she got that opportunity. I didn’t think I’d see her smile any bigger than I did when she dressed out, when she got cleared from the doctor today. It was clear shouldn’t play in the game, it was just during warm-ups, but I got a bigger smile in the locker room when it was over with. I was proud she got to step in and do that. She’s worked hard to try and get back. She’s been disappointed all year. She hasn’t got to be out there with them, but now she feels a part again. It’s just good fortune for her that it worked out that way.”
Alayna Chapman led the ninth-ranked Lady Hornets (20-13) with 10 points. Kaleigh Carson and Erin Pruett both netted six points, and Kenzie Smith finished with five points.