ALEXANDRIA — Momentum was hard to keep Tuesday night in the championship game of the annual Champions Sports Academy Thanksgiving basketball tournament for girls.
Oxford scored the game’s first 10 points. In the third quarter, Spring Garden held 11-point leads four times. The Panthers had to hold off a late charge by Oxford that got the Yellow Jackets as close as two points in the final five seconds before Spring Garden won 59-55.
“We got better tonight. I hope we made Oxford better. … I think we’re what each other need to get better. We need to play against that athleticism. They need to play against our fundamentals,” Spring Garden head Ricky Austin said, noting that the two teams will play two more times, starting with a game at Oxford on Nov. 30.
More than four minutes ticked off the clock in the first quarter before Spring Garden (3-0) scored. By that time Oxford (5-1) had opened a 10-0 lead.
“I think Oxford had a lot to do with it being 10-0,” Austin said. “They came out and made some shots I hadn’t seen them make in some areas. They had a lot of energy. That’s the first time we’ve played against pressure like that all year. I think they just came out and hit us in the mouth quick. We were lucky and fortunate to settle down, make a few plays, get it even and then we had a ball game.”
Oxford led 18-11 after one quarter. Libby Brown’s only basket of the game pulled the Panthers even at 25-25 with 4:25 to play before halftime. Spring Garden point guard and tournament MVP Ace Austin scored on a floater in the lane to make it 27-25. Oxford’s Justice Woods answered with a 3-point basket on the ensuing possession to earn the Yellow Jackets their final lead at 28-27. Bri Boles nailed a trey from the left corner with 3:05 left in the second to put Spring Garden ahead 30-28 and the Panthers never trailed again. Spring Garden led 34-31 at halftime.
At 4:24 of the third quarter, a steal and a layup by Kaylee Kirk put the Panthers ahead by 11 at 42-31. A drive by all-tournament team member Neely Welsh made it 44-33 about a minute later. With 1:03 to go in the third, Welsh rebounded her own missed free throw and put in a shot from the paint for a 49-38 advantage. Kirk scored a break-away basket for a 51-40 advantage with 23 seconds to play in the third.
Up 51-43 after three quarters with both Ace Austin and Welsh in foul trouble, Spring Garden went delay early in the fourth against Oxford’s pressure defense, then went cold from the floor.
“We try to use our depth. … It’s more about keeping us fresh,” Oxford head coach Melissa Bennett said about her substitution pattern. “Our press wasn’t as effective early as it has been but that’s something we can come back and learn from. We know there late in the game pressure can get to anybody, even the best of teams like Spring Garden.”
Welsh made a free throw with 3:22 left for Spring Garden’s first point of the fourth but Oxford had scored just three points during the Panthers’ scoring drought.
In the final 2:15, Oxford got a 3-pointer from the left wing by Lauren Ellard, a drive through the lane by Kaleah Taylor and a 3-point bucket from the top by Woods. Welsh responded for the Panthers with a pair of free throws and an inside basket.
When Welsh was whistled for her fifth foul with 4.9 seconds to play, Spring Garden led 57-54. Oxford’s La’Mya McGrue made the second of two free throws but Spring Garden was able to inbound the ball to Ace Austin. Oxford fouled with 3.4 seconds on the clock and Ace Austin sealed her team’s win with two free throws.
“We competed. They competed,” the elder Austin said. “The ball bounced our way a few times at the end and we got away with a win.”
In a reversal of roles, Oxford netted 10 3-point baskets during the game to three for Spring Garden. Woods had four triples for the Yellow Jackets, one in each quarter. Ellard knocked down two treys.
“We’ve never been described as a 3-point shooting team, especially against Spring Garden, who can shoot the lights out. … We did shoot well tonight but I think that’s just as much a credit to their defense. They’re a great defensive team,” Bennett said. “They were clogging us up. A lot of our driving lanes weren’t there so we had to settle for a lot more 3s. Luckily, we hit several of them.”
Welsh led the Panthers with 22 points, 14 in the second half. She was 8 of 10 at the foul line. Ace Austin finished with 15 points. Kirk added eight points and Sarah Kate McKay scored six points.
Woods’ four 3-pointers helped her to a team-high 16 points. Ellard scored nine points for the Yellow Jackets, Taylor eight and Xai Whitfield six.
Joining Ace Austin on the all-tournament team were Spring Garden’s Welsh, Oxford’s Whitfield and Ellard, Ashley Phillips of Alexandria, Jorda Crook of Ohatchee and Collinsville’s Tyla Tatum.
Consolation game (third place)
White Plains 53, Alexandria 43: After clawing their way back from a six-point deficit at halftime to forge a tie with about four minutes to play, Alexandria went frosty cold and White Plains took full advantage. The Wildcats scored the final 10 points of the game for third place in the annual Champions Sports Academy Thanksgiving tournament for girls.
Camden Wilson and Angel Bozarth did all the scoring damage for White Plains in the decisive fourth quarter. Wilson netted eight of her 13 points in the fourth with a 3-point field goal and 5 of 8 shooting at the free throw line. Bozarth scored six points in the fourth. She was 4 of 6 at the line and added a field goal.
Alexandria trailed 30-24 at halftime. Over the first 12 minutes of the second half, the Valley Cubs outscored White Plains 19-13 and forced a 43-43 deadlock. Ashley Phillips and Jill Cockrell each had eight points in the run. Chloe Gattis scored two and Jordyn Walker one. Then shots stopped falling.
Bozarth totaled 20 points, seven in the first quarter, to lead the Wildcats. Wilson contributed 13 points, 11 in the second half. Adriana Sotelo netted four 3-point baskets — one in the first quarter and three in the second — and finished with12 points. Callyn Martin and Braeton Moran each had one of their team’s nine treys for three points apiece.
Cockrell led the Cubs with 20 points. She had six treys — three in the first quarter and one in each quarter thereafter — and was 2 of 2 at the foul line. Phillips finished with 13 points. She netted three triples. Walker scored eight points. She had a 3-pointer, a deuce and was 2 of 2 at the line in the first quarter as Alexandria took an 18-15 lead after one.