CEDAR BLUFF – Less than a week ago, the Spring Garden football team was playing for a berth in the Class 2A state championship game at Mars Hill. They fell short in that game to end their season at 12-2, meaning basketball season was on the horizon for many of those players.
The Panthers were originally scheduled to play Pleasant Valley on Thursday, but the game was canceled. Head coach Ricky Austin didn’t want to let the opportunity to play a game slip by, especially now in the COVID-19 era, so he called friend and basketball coaching colleague Joe Carpenter to see if the Panthers could pick up a game at Cedar Bluff.
Carpenter agreed, and the Panthers played at Cedar Bluff on Thursday night.
After a sluggish first quarter, Spring Garden found some rhythm behind Chaz Pope and Weston Kirk, which helped the Panthers earn a 70-40 victory in their season opener.
Kirk finished with a game-high 22 points. He also grabbed five rebounds and had six steals. Pope added 12 points, 11 boards and two assists.
“I’m impressed that in less than seven days they were playing the biggest football game in Spring Garden football history. They battled a really good team and left everything on the field. They were beat up and sore,” Austin said. “Our first two days of basketball practice looked like football guys trying to play basketball. We got a little fluid yesterday (Wednesday), but to still come out with the energy and the excitement of wanting to play after leaving it all on the football field after that, that just says a lot about them. It tells why they are successful and why they were successful in football.
“There’s a lot of that togetherness, and that’s got to carry over now. Skill and conditioning will come, but that togetherness, excitement and energy is what’s got to carry us a long way, especially right now. That’s what I saw tonight. I’m very pleased with how they played tonight and ready to go forward.”
The two teams battled to a 10-10 tie at the end of the first quarter, but Pope gave the Panthers (1-0) a 13-10 edge with a trey to open the second quarter. Pope’s 3-pointer sparked an 8-0 run. Kirk finished off the quarter with a pair of baskets that gave Spring Garden a 32-16 advantage heading into the locker room.
“It started feeling like a basketball game in the second (quarter),” Austin said. “The first quarter felt like a football game and they looked like football guys.”
The Panthers kept pouring it on in the third quarter behind Pope and Kirk. They went on a 24-13 run to blow the game open at 56-29.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who can be go-to guys. Every game is going to be different, but looking backwards a little bit, those two had a really good summer as far as what we got to do. They were very sharp then and they got us going,” Austin said of Pope and Kirk. “D’Angelo (Wright) gave us a spark. The second five gave us a spark, but I was very pleased with how Chaz (played). We really want him to become more in that two role. He missed a couple early, but then he made one and it seemed like that started knocking the lid off a little bit for us.
“We got going with a little confidence with a couple of players, but then I thought our press got us going in the flow of the game. Coach (Jason) Howard really likes a lot of tempo baseline to baseline. The press helped affect the game.”
Luke Welsh tossed in 11 points and grabbed 11 boards for the Panthers. Wright had nine points. Ryley Kirk connected on a pair of treys and had six points. Andrew Floyd and Cam Welsh both finished with five points.
Bucky Leek led the Tigers (1-2) with 16 points. Jacob Burleson and Dylan Kinard both finished with six points.
“I’ve got to thank Joe for letting us come over here and play tonight. It’s a big help,” Austin said. “I’m thankful Joe understands, and he wants to play too. You never know when we may get shut down, and he wants to get in as many games as he can. We just needed a starting point, especially before we see Plainview on Tuesday. This right here helps us, gets our feet wet and gets some rhythm going.”
Cedar Bluff hosts West End on Monday.
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