JACKSONVILLE – The Class 2A girls basketball showdown between top-ranked Spring Garden and No. 2 Pisgah that everyone in Northeast Alabama imagined might happen finally did Thursday morning at Jacksonville State University’s Pete Mathews Coliseum.
And it certainly didn’t disappoint.
The score was tied six times. The lead changed 17 more, and neither team had more than a 7-point edge the entire game.
In the end, it was Pisgah that prevailed.
Sophomore guard Kallie Tinker sank a 3-pointer with 19 seconds remaining in regulation to ultimately force overtime. In the extra session, the Lady Eagles went on a 6-0 run in 1:30 and then held on for 72-65 victory in the Class 2A Girls Northeast Regional final.
The Lady Panther loss dashed their 29-game winning streak, and it ended their first season in 2A at 32-3.
“I give them all the credit in the world. They made play after play after play,” Spring Garden coach Ricky Austin said. “Our crosshairs have been on them all year long since the reclass come out. We thought if we were playing Pisgah at the end of the year, something good was happening to us. Obviously it’s been a great year, 32-3. It didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but I’d take this same team and play Pisgah again tomorrow.”
“It was exactly what it was billed to be,” Pisgah coach Carey Ellison said. “I hate it that as good a team as Spring Garden is we had to meet in the regional finals instead of somewhere down the line. It’s an honor to be able to play with a team like that and the coach they have. We’re just really overjoyed with the effort we gave and the poise we showed when we had to.”
Even after Tinker’s trey – her fifth of the game – Spring Garden still had a chance to win with the ball near the end of regulation. Lady Panther junior forward Neely Welsh drove inside the paint, but was called for a charge with 4.9 seconds to go, turning the ball back over to Pisgah.
“I saw the time and I knew I had to get to the basket,” Welsh said. “I needed to score that layup to go ahead. I guess once I got down there, I just lost the ball and got out of control. I just tried to shake it off and go on to the next play. That’s all I could do.”
Following a timeout, Pisgah junior forward Molly Heard took an in-bound pass from Karlee Holcomb, dribbled up the court and shot a jumper at the buzzer that fell short, forcing overtime with the score tied at 57.
But the Lady Eagles still had momentum on their side.
“They hit the 3 and it really energized them. They knew they had a second chance,” Austin said. “They took advantage of it. That’s what good teams do.”
Kennedy Barron opened overtime hitting the first of two free throws with 3:33 left in the extra session. Holcomb sank a trey at the 2:57 mark, and senior guard Bella Bobo connected on a layup with 2:30 to go. Bobo was also fouled on the play, but she missed her ensuing free throw.
Still, the Lady Eagles held a 63-57 edge with time winding down.
“We were down six at halftime and six in overtime, but I knew we could still come back,” Lady Panther eighth grade point guard Ace Austin said. “I was like ‘We’ve got this. Come on. We’ve just got to keep scoring.’ We finally cut it, but then they kept scoring right back on us.”
As Ace Austin said, Spring Garden cut its deficit to four at 65-61 with 58 seconds left following a pair of her baskets, but Pisgah connected on 9-of-10 free throws down the stretch to help preserve the win and another trip to Birmingham.
“We had opportunities,” Coach Austin said. “It goes back to some of the small things, then you throw in their size, their strength. It affected us. We always know we’re the smallest team on the floor. We’re never the biggest team. That’s why we do the things we do to try to neutralize people’s size with our skill. I thought that is what kept us around, and some heart and gutty efforts.”
Ace Austin led the Lady Panthers with a game-high 26 points. She also had six assists, six rebounds and three steals before fouling out with 6.4 seconds to go in overtime.
Welsh tossed in 16 points to go along with three boards, three assists and a pair of steals. Senior center Lexy Adkison added 13 points, nine rebounds and two assists. Junior guard Abbey Steward finished with a pair of 3-pointers for six points and eight rebounds.
Tinker led the Lady Eagles (23-6) with 20 points, including five 3-pointers. Heard had 18 points, 10 boards, seven assists and three blocks. Bobo netted 12 points. Emma Ellison finished with 10 points and five boards.
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