“It took us a long time to hit a shot in the third quarter,” said Spring Garden coach Ricky Austin, noting that the Panthers didn’t handle Sacred Heart’s defensive pressure as well in the third as they had in the first half. “That was the difference in the game. We really didn’t see that coming. We were jacked at halftime.”
Ahead 27-21 at intermission, Sacred Heart (24-6) opened the second half with a 9-0 run. The quarter was three minutes old before senior Jacob Black netted a free throw. It was 46-30 Cardinals after three quarters. Senior Jay Prater drilled three of his five 3-point baskets in the fourth, senior Will Westbrook had six of his team-best 20 points in the fourth and eighth-grader Riley Austin scored on a drive as Spring Garden (14-14) outscored the Cardinals 17-14 in the final eight minutes.
“We played a very good team and I thought we played very well,” the elder Austin said.
This year’s trip marked the second consecutive Northeast Regional for the Spring Garden boys after a four-year run of absences.
“I’m proud and fortunate that these four seniors stuck with me so long,” Austin said of Westbrook, Prater, Black and Will Ivey. “They’ve established some consistency (in tournament appearances) and I think that’s huge.”
Prater ended with 15 points. Westbrook added 12 rebounds to his 20 points for a double-double. Black finished with five points, three rebounds, two steals and two assists. Ivey had seven rebounds, four assists, two steals and one point. The younger Austin was 4-for-5 at the free throw line and scored six points.
To reach the regional tournament, the Panthers had to defeat Jefferson Christian in a sub-regional game on the road in Irondale Friday. Spring Garden led 23-10 at halftime and 40-29 after three quarters. The Eagles mounted a furious comeback in the final eight minutes. After Jefferson Christian cut the Panthers’ led to two points at 50-48, Westbrook hit one of two free throws with seven seconds left to force the Eagles to attempt a 3-point shot that missed at the buzzer.
Austin said Black played the best game of his high school career. He had 10 rebounds and scored 15 points, mostly on put-backs. Ivey scored 13 points and added four assists. Westbrook scored 11 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Prater had two 3-pointers and two free throws for eight points and pulled down eight rebounds. Riley Austin scored four points.
Collinsville had defeated Spring Garden 53-32 in the Class 1A, Area 10 championship game to send the Panthers on the road for their sub-regional game.