SPRING GARDEN - Cedar Bluff's defensive pressure was a concern of Spring Garden girls basketball coach Ricky Austin during Saturday's Class 1A, Area 10 championship game.
As it turned out, the Lady Panthers' defensive effort was the one that left the big impression.
Spring Garden limited Cedar Bluff to just three third-quarter points and cruised to a 47-25 victory to win their second straight area title.
Next up for the fifth-ranked Lady Panthers (24-4) is a Thursday sub-regional game against Jefferson Christian, a 42-28 loser to Appalachian in the Area 9 final on Saturday. Cedar Bluff (13-15) will travel to Appalachian, also on Thursday.
Austin said Spring Garden's defense was "probably the highlight of our game" on Saturday.
"I was proud of our half-court defense and our press," he said. "We kept them out of the lane. They're a little quicker than us in positions, and we felt like they would try to drive on us. At the last minute, we decided to switch and go to our point zone. It's something we've used a lot this year. For the most part, we did a good job with that."
Spring Garden senior forward Haley Motes, named the tournament's Most Valuable Player after scoring 12 points Saturday, also credited the Lady Panthers' defense for the win.
"In the past, our defense hasn't been the thing that's won games for us, but this year it's been going in our favor," she said. "After playing Gaylesville (Thursday), we knew we were playing Cedar Bluff and knew we would have to handle a lot of pressure. We had a game plan to know what to do to handle that pressure."
Spring Garden managed to hold a 12-8 advantage at the end of the first quarter. A 10-2 run in the second, capped off with a 3-pointer by Darian Gaines with 25 seconds to go before intermission, gave the Lady Panthers a 22-10 lead at halftime.
"She's been known to make big shots for us, and she did there," Austin said of Gaines' 3-pointer. "I felt like when she made that shot, you could get a sense of a different flow for us. We had some breathing room. We quit playing so tight and tense."
Proving Austin's statement was Spring Garden's 17-3 run in the third quarter that blew the game open. Cedar Bluff's only bucket of the quarter came on a 3-pointer by Katie McGinnis at the 2:55 mark.
"We weren't relaxed enough to score," Cedar Bluff coach Joe Carpenter said. "They turned it up on us. Putting 25 (points) up is not enough. We've got to do a better job of relaxing. We put 12 up in the fourth quarter, but we could have done that the whole ball game if we were relaxed. I think we were over-hyped. We were tight."
Tykeah Rogers led the Lady Panthers with 14 points. Gaines and Madison Sides both connected on a pair of treys and six points apiece. Emory Reedy finished with five points.
Rogers and Gaines joined Motes on the all-tournament team.
McGinnis, an all-tournament selection, led the Lady Tigers with 11 points, three steals, three assists and two rebounds. Rylie Johnson and Jasmine Adams finished with five and four points respectively. Delilah Price and Marigrace Wilson both grabbed five rebounds apiece.
Collinsville's Aryelle Jones rounded out the all-tournament selections.