It’s on to Birmingham and the AHSAA state basketball tournament finals for the Spring Garden Panthers. Monday’s convincing 68-39 victory over Skyline in the Northeast Regional Class 1A girls championship game advanced Spring Garden (30-3) to the state semifinal round at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex’s Legacy Arena.
In Monday’s postgame interviews, Spring Garden senior Kerstin Bryant called this year’s trip to Birmingham a “chance to redeem ourselves” after last year’s gut-wrenching 44-43 championship game loss to R.A. Hubbard when Hubbard netted the second of two free throws with no time on the clock to break a 43-43 tie.
“I think all year we’ve been preparing for the next game but we’ve also had the final four and that game in our mind and that’s what’s been motivating us every practice,” Bryant said.
The Panthers will play their semifinal game this year at noon on Feb. 26 against the winner of today’s Central Regional championship game between Loachapoka and Westminster-Oak Mountain. The 1A girls championship game will be played Mar. 1 at 4 p.m.
Senior post Tiyonna Rogers, named Northeast Regional MVP for the second consecutive year, finished with 33 points on 13-for-18 shooting from inside the 3-point arc. The Panther were 5-for-13 from outside the line. Senior guard Kerstin Bryant, an all-tournament team selection with Rogers, had two treys. Payton McGinnis, Neely Welsh and Macy Reedy each had one 3-pointer.
Spring Garden coach Ricky Austin said his players made just enough 3-point attempts to force Skyline to guard the perimeter.
“We’ve got to be able to shoot from the outside to get (Rogers) loosened up inside. … It’s a good combination we’ve got going right now with the outside and inside,” Austin said.
Austin also pointed to the limited number of turnovers by his ball handlers, Bryant and A.J. Broome, against Skyline’s full-court man-to-man defense as an important factor in Spring Garden’s second victory over Skyline in the Northeast Regional final in as many years.
In this year’s win over the Vikings, Spring Garden zipped to 19-4 lead after one quarter. Five players contributed points in the first quarter. Rogers had six and Bryant scored five. Reedy and Welsh each netted a 3-point basket and Broome had two points. At halftime, the Panthers led 32-13.
Skyline players expended a lot of energy trying to get back into the game in the third quarter. With about two minutes left in the third period, the Vikings had closed within 13 points at 38-25. The Panthers responded with a 7-0 run on an inside basket by Rogers, a 3-pointer from Bryant and another bucket from the paint by Rogers. With Spring Garden in front 45-25, the fourth quarter was just a formality, a matter of time running off the clock.
Rogers added 13 rebounds, three assists and three steals to her 33 points. Her rebounds helped the Panthers to a 34-26 advantage on the boards. Bryant had 10 points, five rebounds and two assists. Broome scored eight points and added three assists and three rebounds. Reedy and McGinnis each tallied five points. McGinnis grabbed four rebounds. Chloe Jarrett had four points and three rebounds. Welsh finished with three points.
To reach the championship game against Skyline, Spring Garden defeated Cedar Bluff 50-26 on Thursday. The Panthers took a 5-4 lead on a triple by Bryant with the game about three minute old and never trailed again. The Tigers did not reach double figure points in any quarter. Spring Garden led 18-8 after one quarter, 28-14 at halftime and 39-21 when the third quarter closed.
Rogers had 17 points, six rebounds and three steals. Bryant scored 15 points and added three assists. Welsh finished with 10 points and four rebounds. Reedy scored four points. McGinnis had two points, four steals and three assists. Broome ended with two points, four rebounds. four steals and four assists.