Spring Garden girls ‘in the conversation’ about program’s best teams

January 10 — SPRING GARDEN — Spring Garden’s 19-0 record in women’s basketball tells a story.

Scores of 86-2 over Coosa Christian, 81-22 over Jacksonville Christian, 101-11 over Galesville and 91-16 over Cedar Bluff mean the Panthers are back in Class 1A after hitting the Molly Hurd ceiling for two years. is said to be of in the Tohoku region.

Class 1A’s top-ranked team looks set to clinch the program’s eighth state championship in 2A if reclassification alone gives the Panthers another two-year cycle. Class 6A runners-up on Monday A 56-46 victory over Oxford in London raised the question of how far the imagination could be stretched.

Just ask longtime coach Ricky Austin if his latest Spring Garden team is the best. He doesn’t run away from the question. He just knows when to call timeout.

“They’re definitely in on the conversation,” said Austin. “We can talk about it after the season is over, but definitely in conversation.”

Austin’s thinking about it runs deeper than most fans see. Evaluate.

What he has long established is being able to draw the nearest 6A team to face him home and away in each of the last three seasons. Oxford coach Melissa Bennett believes there is something to be gained from winning or losing to Austin’s team.

“It’s a solid play,” she said. “First of all, it’s a great environment. On the night of the[college football]national tournament, the gymnasium was packed for a women’s only game. That’s something special. We want to create that kind of environment for home games. I think

“It’s kind of an old-fashioned feeling. Most people don’t know the feeling of a gym like Hoosiers, but they know it. It’s a great program.”

Then you get the chance to play Spring Garden security guard Ace Austin, Austin’s daughter. That’s because she helped the Panthers win their most recent state title as her seventh grader.

She has played a varsity-length career playing over two seasons and counts Bennett as one of her admirers.

“Sometimes you’ll run into an ace in the playoffs,” she said. “Hopefully not too often.

“As long as she’s doing it for the team, she’s the best player we’ll see. If you compare her to the[Lenya]Kelly girl from Hoover, it’s probably pretty even. It’s going to be a tough fight. I will buy a ticket for that one-on-one match.”

Austin played her role on Monday, her role was her 21 points, 10 assists, 7 rebounds and 6 steals, tailored to the level of competition.

She did just that by dribbling around a team that included 2022 6A Player of the Year finalist Xai Whitfield and two starters returning from the Final Four squad. Oxford gave Ricky Austin the size, length, physicality and quickness he needed for his midseason test of willpower.

Whitfield scored 10 of his 19 points in the first quarter and the rest in the fourth, helping Oxford hold back Spring Garden’s lead, which extended to 52–32.

Oxford have 10 points from Kaylen Kenny and 9 from Jamie Gaston, while Spring Garden have 13 from center Chloe Rule, 9 from 3-point shooter Kaley Kirk and 8 from Maggie Jarrett. obtained the

With Kirk’s knee fully recovered from the injury he suffered two years ago and Libby Brown’s growth into the starting role, ample options have been developed to force opponents to pick Poison, centered around ace Austin… her score or her pass.

“Last year Libby will come off the bench,” Ace Austin said. “She’s still a threat, but this year she’s been a really big threat and Kaley, last year she wasn’t totally 100%.

“We’re under a lot of threats. Maggie Jarrett didn’t play last year, but she’s a hustler too. She’s going to rebound. And Chloe, we’re really big.”

Now that Hurd has graduated and a de facto state championship game against Pisgah is looming in the region, it’s enough for Ace Austin to hope Spring Garden will have another reclassification cycle in 2A.

“I wish I had this team that could run faster,” she said.

Of course, Ace Austin is an ever-present threat.

With offers including Auburn, Mississippi, Florida, Southern Miss, and Lipscomb who could team with Hurd, the sophomore is no longer the smallest girl on the court. At 5 feet 7 inches and a 100 lb listing, she can do more than hold herself against bumps and hand checks.

“She moved on,” said Ricky Austin. “She’s definitely a little stronger, a little bit bigger than last year. She’s done a really good job of facilitating when she needs to, but at the same time, when she has to, she’s doing a great job for the team. Be selfish in unselfish ways.

“She understands her role very well. Just because she’s guarded doesn’t mean she takes it off every time. Still, she has to play to her strengths.”

Sportswriter Joe Medley: 256-236-1551. Twitter: @jmedley_star.

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