NE Regional girls: 1A No. 1 Spring Garden takes down No. 2 Skyline in region final

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Spring Garden’s Ace Austin’s first thought following a second straight regional championship was to apologize to her coach for a less-than-stellar shooting performance.

It just so happens her coach is also her father.

“There ain’t no bad game,” he told her. “It doesn’t have to be pretty. We just need to win.”

RELATED: See Monday’s statewide results

After the rocky start, the Alabama commit ended up being the leading scorer as the top-ranked Panthers took an opening-round punch but gutted their way to a 51-38 victory over No. 2 Skyline in Monday’s Class 1A girls Northeast Regional final at Jacksonville State’s Pete Mathews Coliseum.

“That’s what a championship game is supposed to look like,” Spring Garden coach Ricky Austin said. “That was a fun game. A good game.”

Spring Garden (31-1) fell behind early as Audra Bellomy dropped in two 3-pointers to help build an 8-2 advantage for the Vikings midway through the opening period. Maggie Jarrett and Oliva Law answered the charge with back-to-back buckets for the Panthers, cutting the lead in half, but Skyline’s Brinlee Potts nailed another two 3-pointers to lift the Vikings to a 14-8 lead entering the second quarter.

Potts added her third straight 3-pointer to open the second period, building the Skyline advantage to nine points. Spring Garden used an 11-0 run, powered by bookending 3-pointers from Jarrett, to take its first lead of the game, 19-17, with 4:48 left in the first half.

Skyline’s Katie Roach snapped the Spring Garden run with her only made basket of the game, a 3-pointer to swing the lead back to the Vikings, and Kaina King scored four straight points to cap a 7-1 run with 2:31 left in the period. Austin and Law combined to cut the Skyline lead to 24-23 entering the halftime break.

Austin got going early in the second half in converting an and-1 opportunity on Spring Garden’s opening possession, and Law capped a 9-2 opening run for the Panthers to build a 32-26 lead midway through the third period. Chloe Rule and Austin scored the last two buckets of the period to give Spring Garden a five-point advantage leading into the fourth quarter.

Skyline (22-8) managed only two buckets in the final period, both coming on a layup from Blakely Stucky, who converted a plus-1 opportunity on the final shot. The Panthers closed out on a 6-0 run by way of the free-throw line.

Did you know? Spring Garden advances to its second straight state tournament and will make its 18th appearance in program history, winning eight titles since the 1987 season. Skyline falls to the Panthers in the regional final for the second straight year after winning a state title in 2021.

By the numbers: Spring Garden finished shooting 46.3 percent from the field while going 3-of-13 on three-pointers and 10-of-15 at the charity stripe. The Panthers allowed Skyline to shoot 40 percent overall and 41.2 percent from 3-point range but owned a plus-5 edge in rebounding and forced 11 turnovers that resulted in 11 points.

Stat sheet: Spring Garden – Austin led the way with a game-high 19 points, adding three rebounds, nine assists and two blocks, and Jarrett finished with 18 points and four rebounds. Rule had five points and seven rebounds, followed by Law with six points, seven boards and three steals. Skyline – Potts had a team-high 13 points for the Vikings, including seven rebounds, and Bellomy had eight points and three boards. King finished six points, three rebounds and three assists, and Stucky added five points and three assists.

Coachspeak: “Biggest concern I had with Skyline coming in was exactly what we saw. Their role players played very well. We had a whole book of set plays. They didn’t run one of them, and their defense is really good at rotating around.” — Spring Garden’s Ricky Austin

“These ladies are so special. They’ve made me a better coach. They laid it on the line on for the school, their team and their community. What else can a coach ask? A very special group of ladies and every one of them is going to be successful in life. There’s no doubt in mind.” — Skyline’s Craig McGill

They said it: “We knew it was going to be a battle. In the first half, they did a better job of boxing us out, but we did a better job in the second half. Our defense was a big key to that.” — Ace Austin

“I came in knowing I had to do the best I could to help the team out.” — Maggie Jarrett

“We go over in practice about getting over to the help side and being in the correct position. We take pride in the charges we take and it changes the momentum when you have a hard drive like that.” — Chloe Rule

What’s next? Spring Garden advances to face No. 4 Elba in a Class 1A state semifinal at 9 a.m., Monday, Feb. 26, at BJCC’s Legacy Arena in Birmingham.

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