SPRING GARDEN – Spring Garden basketball coach Ricky Austin just happened to be reading an article on the latest Alabama High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame class over the weekend, and it got him to thinking about his own career.
He was curious about how many girls basketball wins he’s accumulated in over 25 years.
As it turned out, it just so happened he was up to 659 entering Monday night’s home opener against Cleburne County.
Behind seven 3-pointers from Neely Welsh, the Lady Panthers earned another milestone moment in Austin’s coaching career with a 72-41 victory.
“When you do something like that, it is all the girls who’ve ever played for me before. That’s what I start thinking about,” Coach Austin said. “I started realizing how old I am and how many girls I’ve coached.
“I don’t make a big deal about it, but it’s one of those things I’m glad I got to do it with this group. The other girls who won 600, 500, 400, 300, 200, 100, they’re a part of that. You remember the ones who helped you do that stuff, and all the assistant coaches. It takes you back. When I realized it, you don’t just think about this one. You think about all the others and all the stuff that’s had to happen to make this happen. I wish I could go back and do it again. It’s been that much fun.”
Austin also said he’s been surrounded by a lot of “great people” during his career, including “great players, great coaches and great administrators.”
“It’s just a reflection to do something like that and start thinking ‘Wow, there’s a lot of people who had a lot to do with this.’ It wasn’t just me. If I could get all those people in one room together that would be really awesome. It’s most definitely something that’s sneaked up all of a sudden.”
Welsh finished with a game-high 27 points. Ace Austin tossed in 23 points, including three treys.
As a team, the Lady Panthers (6-0) finished with 15 3-pointers in the game.
“Neely’s got a different game about her right now, a lot of confidence,” Coach Austin said. “Defensively was where her focus was, but her offense just flowed. Her shot looked really great tonight. We’re playing her inside out. She’s a tough matchup right now, playing inside out. Her and Ace up there together, we’re able to move them around, and they really benefit off each other.”
Welsh said she was proud of herself for making so many outside shots.
“Every time I hit another one, I was like ‘Oh my gosh, this is actually happening,’” she said. “We had talked about how we haven’t been shooting well and we kind of needed to clean it up. We’ve been working more and more on it in practice and shoot around. I think tonight it just clicked.”
Abbey Steward sank three treys and finished with nine points. Bri Boles and Sarah Kate McKay both had four points.
The Lady Panthers jumped out on a 27-10 first-quarter run and led 44-21 at halftime. They built a 64-33 advantage after three quarters.
“Offensively, the game looked easy tonight. Defensively, it looked like we were working hard,” Coach Austin said. “I can’t complain when it looks like that. I really thought Neely, if she can keep elevating her game like that, she’s most definitely going to be an x-factor. We were very pleased with the overall performance tonight.”
Jacksonville State signee Brooklyn McDaniel led Cleburne County with 26 points, including four 3-pointers. Faith Brown added seven points and Hailey Price, who recently went over 1,000 points, finished with five points.
Spring Garden 62, Cleburne County 39
SPRING GARDEN – In their first game since football season ended, the Spring Garden Panthers posted a 62-39 victory behind Cooper Austin’s 14 points.
Three other Panthers finished in double figures, including Jacob Welsh (12 points, all in the second half), Cam Welsh (11 points) and John Welsh (11 points). Andrew Floyd and Chapel Pope both netted six points apiece.
“This might be the roughest start we’ve ever had,” Coach Austin said. “This group of guys has not just come out of football, but my goodness, they’ve played both sides of the football. Every one of them. It’s been tough. It’s a reflection of who they are.
“We did some things pretty good tonight, and I think that has a lot to do with Coach (Kevin) Ward coaching some of these guys really hard in junior high. He has done a great job of getting them ready for this. We had some young guys stepping on the court tonight starting that had to take a big step, and they got a step in the right direction I think. Our seniors, their experience really showed tonight.”
Spring Garden (1-0) held a 15-9 first-quarter lead and maintained a 32-29 advantage at halftime. The Panthers went on a 16-4 run in the third quarter to take a 48-33 lead. They closed out the game on a 14-6 run.
“I was a little disappointed in the first half because I told them pregame ‘Let’s don’t get caught up in taking too many threes,” Coach Austin said. “We’ve got a big guy (Jacob Welsh). We’ve got four guys we can use in there, but Jake is a true big guy. Let’s use him. I thought in the first half we shot too many threes. I wanted inside and out. I emphasized that at halftime, and then I thought we looked pretty sharp in the second half. It was a very good first game for five days of practice.”
Jaylon Groce led Cleburne County with 11 points, including three treys. Dee Prothro and Dayleon Brown both finished with 10 points for the Tigers.