Didn’t have another Paige Anderson.
But Lady Panthers legends such as Garner and Anderson should be and no doubt are proud that the Lady Panthers turned another page.
A 51-49 loss in overtime to Sunshine in Tuesday’s Class 1A semifinals just marked the ending of the beginning for Spring Garden’s next generation of Birmingham regulars.
All but senior reserve Shelby Malone will return next season, which means the Lady Panthers look good for their ninth trip to Birmingham in 10 years.
Their eighth trip — which came after their only miss in nine years — just might be the sweetest of all for what Spring Garden coach Ricky Austin called “an overachieving team.”
“We showed a lot of people that we work hard,” junior and leading scorer Tara Mullinax said. “We’re proud to wear our Spring Garden jerseys.”
Spring Garden is one of those programs. The Lady Panthers have four state titles, three during their current run of Birmingham trips.
But much of that run seemed to have an explanation. Garner led the early years, with big assists from Latrisha Abernathy and Britney Parris. Anderson, a former 1A Player of the Year, led the later years.
Anderson finished her high school career in 2008 and moved on to Samford. The Lady Panthers lost in the Northeast Regional in 2009, and even Austin said he wondered if he’d seen the best years.
“We thought last year we should have gone for our eighth straight,” Austin said. “We had a great season. We go into the regional tournament 30-2 and had beaten Gaston three times. I had gotten out throughout the state, and I thought we had a chance to compete and win a state championship last year, and we just didn’t.
“Just as quick as that streak started, I was so worried: ‘Is this the other streak now?’”
Austin came back this season with the same team, minus honorable-mention all-state pick Hannah Hutcheson — Anderson’s replacement at point guard.
He had a sophomore to replace Anderson’s replacement.
What’s more, he just wasn’t sure his latest team had that hard-to-define “it” quality.
Then came Mullinax’s early-season knee injury.
Then Jordan Sides, the heir to the heir at point guard, had a mysterious episode in practice, followed by an ambulance ride and weeks of tests that have yet to produce a conclusive diagnosis.
Spring Garden lost six of 11 games while all of this was going on, and those little doubts just grew.
But this is Spring Garden. It’s one of those schools with a highway sign, and the sign has lots of numbers, signifying years the Lady Panthers won the state championship.
They survived a 26-25 slugfest with Gaston to win the Northeast Regional, and guess what ... another trip to Birmingham.
“I had to pinch myself the other night to make sure this group was going back,” Austin said Monday.
They didn’t have a player to match Alabama signee Shafontaye Myers, who scored 31 points and grabbed 10 steals. Then again, the Garden Girls found a way to lead from 6:16 of the first quarter to 6:31 of the fourth.
They walked out of the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex looking like a team that could return next season.
The latest episode ended with a tease: “To be continued.”
Mikie had to like it.
Same for Paige.
But one doubts that either took as much delight in Spring Garden’s Birmingham return as their former coach and the current players.
They came from an unusual place for Spring Garden.
“Nobody expected to go anywhere,” junior Kelsey Turner said. “When Paige graduated, everybody thought we were just going to flop.
“It’s great to prove people wrong.”