BIRMINGHAM — As if they needed reminding, in the locker room before Thursday's Class 1A state championship game, Spring Garden's girls basketball players watched the last play of last year's title contest.
The video is familiar to all of them: The Panthers' A.J. Broome got called for a controversial foul with no time left on the clock, and R.A. Hubbard made a free throw to break a tie and win a state crown.
That sent the Spring Garden players on a year-long journey of picking themselves up, accepting the loss, working hard every day, and, finally, discovering redemption by winning this year's state championship.
A motivated and focused Spring Garden squad grabbed the initial lead and never let it go in dispatching Phillips 52-38 at Legacy Arena.
"To know everything we did and how we worked for 364 days, and now to see all this, it means so much," junior Payton McGinnis said.
This marked Ricky Austin's fifth state championship as Spring Garden's girls basketball coach, but even with all those wins, he couldn't hold back the emotion afterward.
"I don't have words," Austin said. "The emotions … I don't know why this one is so special."
Later, when given time to consider, he said that this one is more special because his team "took a negative and made it a positive."
"We won this year because we lost last year," he said.
Even so, emotion alone didn't win this one. Spring Garden (32-3) took down taller Phillips (29-4) first with long-range shooting and then by going inside to tournament most valuable player Tiyonna "Bootsie" Rogers, who produced game highs in points (15) and rebounds (15).
When matched up, Spring Garden was outsized at every position. The Panthers battled 6-foot-2 with 5-10, 6-1 with 5-6, 5-9 with 5-6, 5-7 with 5-5, and 5-5 with 5-0.
That 5-foot-0 was sophomore Macy Reedy, who struggled in the games leading up to the Final Four. But on the big stage at Legacy Arena, she delivered the biggest shots early.
She scored all 12 of her points in the first quarter with four 3-pointers as Phillips seem to lose the small guard amidst the humanity on the floor. After that, Phillips shaded her with a pair of defenders always knowing where she was.
"Maybe they didn't see her as a threat because she's young," senior Kerstin Bryant said. "She gave us breathing room so we could operate and get the ball to Bootsie. She opened up a lot of opportunities."
As for Reedy, she said afterward with a big smile revealing a set of braces, "I had to come out and do what I had to do."
Spring Garden led 21-10 after one quarter, and all 21 points came on 3-pointers. The Panthers made only one more trey the rest of the game, but the damage already had been done.
"I told our team that we've got to come out throwing haymakers," Austin said. "And they knew that by haymakers, I meant 3-pointers."
Rogers went to work after that, as the Panthers' long-range game had spread out the Phillips defense. In addition, the Spring Garden defense clamped down on the Bears.
After a Phillips basket cut the lead to 30-22 right after halftime, Spring Garden rocketed out to a 41-22 advantage and never led by fewer than 10 after that.
Phillips rejuvenated its fans with an eight-point run by Julianna Taylor to trim Spring Garden's advantage to 41-30, but Spring Garden calmly finished out the game by making 11 of 15 foul shots.
After it ended, Austin reminded reporters that getting to the state championship game for the fourth time and winning for the second wasn't easy for his players.
"I've told our team, 'Don't forget how special it was to get here,'" he said. "They took a chance. They took a chance on coming back here and getting hurt again. They got this far last year and got cut, but they accepted the pressure."