Sand Rock has two wins over Spring Garden already this season, games in which the Panthers didn’t play particularly well. Spring Garden coach Ricky Austin said Tuesday that the Wildcats are “very, very physical” and use their size advantage effectively in half-court traps.
“We’re going to have to play strong with the ball,” Austin said of his offense. “Defensively, we’re going to have to be aggressive on the boards and finish our defense by rebounding extremely well because they crash the boards hard.”
The Spring Garden versus Sand Rock winner advances to the title game Saturday at 7:30 p.m. The other finalist will be No. 1 Cherokee County, No. 4 Cedar Bluff or No. 5 Gaylesville. Cedar Bluff and Gaylesville open the tournament Thursday at 7:30 p.m. Thursday’s winner tangles with Cherokee County in Friday’s late game, scheduled to start at 8:30 p.m.
In their only game over the past week, the Panthers picked up a road win on Thursday, defeating Ranburne 61-56. Spring Garden led 21-13 after one quarter, 37-29 at halftime and 46-39 after three quarters. In the fourth quarter, Spring Garden struggled at the free throw line and the Bulldogs held a two-point lead briefly. Austin said his team regained the lead with about three minutes to play and led the rest of the way.
“We rebounded really well,” Austin said. “Our size was probably the difference. They tried to press us and we handled their pressure extremely well. They wanted to play a zone. Jay (Prater) hit some threes. That forced them to play man and they just couldn’t match up with us.”
Will Westbrook had 20 points and 12 rebounds. Prater connected on four 3-point baskets in the first quarter and ended with 14 points. Jacob Black scored 13 points, all in the first half. Will Ivey scored six points, dished out seven assists and grabbed six rebounds. Tanner Parker and Riley Austin each had a 3-pointer.
The Panthers were to play at home Tuesday night against Woodland, tuning up for Friday’s county tournament encounter with Sand Rock. Next week, Spring Garden plays at Woodland Monday then returns to Class 1A, Area 10 play Tuesday in Gadsden against Coosa Christian.