EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the fourth in a five-part series chronicling the sports milestones and accomplishments of the each of the five Cherokee County schools this past school year.
For years, Spring Garden was known as a basketball school. While the Panthers are still a force to be reckoned with on the court, the other sports continued to establish themselves as championship contenders too throughout the 2016-17 school year.
The Panther football team won its first eight games of the 2016 season and held its highest ranking in school history (No. 3) for five weeks, setting up a Class 1A, Region 6 championship game at rival Cedar Bluff on Oct. 21.
In a classic back-and-forth battle, Spring Garden held a 24-21 advantage late in the third quarter, but Cedar Bluff managed to take the lead and hold on for a 29-24 victory.
Ben Ivey led Spring Garden with 175 yards on 23 carries and two touchdowns. He also completed 5-of-9 pass attempts for 53 yards and another score.
Spring Garden went on to defeat Pleasant Valley 36-27 to close out the regular season, then blasted South Lamar 40-14 in the first round of the state playoffs. The Panthers' season ended with a 42-26 loss at Addison. They finished the year at 10-2.
Following football season, Spring Garden placed eight players on the All-Cherokee County Football Team. Those eight were Ivey, Dakota Lambert, Quintin Downey, Taylor Hardin, Christian Crider, PJay Smith, Hunter McCord and Draevan Bowman.
Lambert was also named First Team Athlete and Smith earned a spot on the Second Team Defensive Line on the Alabama Sports Writers' Class 1A All-State Football Teams.
The Lady Panther volleyball team clinched its fourth straight area title on Oct. 17 with a hard-fought victory in the championship match over host Cedar Bluff in five games. The scores were 14-25, 25-22, 20-25, 25-21 and 16-14. The Lady Panthers clinched a berth in the North Regional Tournament at Huntsville's Von Braun Center, where their season ended in another battle that went the distance against Sacred Heart three days later. The scores were 12-25, 26-24, 20-25, 25-15 and 14-16.
Spring Garden had a pair of players chosen on the All-Cherokee County Volleyball Team after the season in Rachel Morris and AJ Broome.
The Lady Panthers maintained their court success in basketball. Spring Garden finished as the Class 1A state runner-up following a controversial heartbreaking 44-43 loss to R.A. Hubbard on March 2 at Birmingham's Legacy Arena.
The Lady Chiefs' Alexandria Orr was sent to the line for two shots following a called foul on a loose ball with no time left on the clock and the game tied at 43. Orr missed her first shot, but her second rimmed in to give the Lady Chiefs the victory, ending the Lady Panthers' season at 25-8.
Spring Garden reached the Class 1A state title game by defeating J.F. Shields in the state semifinals on Feb. 27.
The week prior, the Lady Panthers won their 11th Class 1A Northeast Regional basketball tournament title at Jacksonville State University on Feb. 22. Spring Garden held Skyline to just two made field goals in the first half and seven the entire game in a 46-25 victory in the regional final. Tiyonna Rogers scored 11 points and grabbed seven rebounds to earn the tournament's Most Valuable Player honor. She also had 18 points and nine rebounds in the Lady Panthers' 61-25 regional semifinal victory against Cedar Bluff. Savannah Dempsey delivered a game-high 22 points, including six 3-pointers, in the win over Cedar Bluff.
Behind Rogers' 30 points and seven rebounds, Spring Garden won the Class 1A, Area 10 tournament with a 74-20 victory over Jacksonville Christian on Feb. 10. The Lady Panthers also defeated Sacred Heart 86-38 behind Dempsey's six 3-pointers in Spring Garden's tournament opener on Feb. 7. Dempsey finished the game with 18 points.
The Lady Panthers finished runner-up to Sand Rock in the Cherokee Invitational basketball tournament on Dec. 20. They fell in the tournament's championship game 49-46.
Following the season, Rogers and Dempsey were selected to the ASWA Class 1A All-State Basketball teams. Rogers garnered a spot on the first team while Dempsey was named to the second team.
Rogers and Dempsey, along with Payton McGinnis, were also All-Cherokee County girls basketball selections.
The Panther boys ended their season with a 16-10 record. They fell in sub-regional action with a with a 58-51 loss at Coosa Christian on Feb. 14.
Riley Austin earned a third-team spot on the ASWA Class 1A All-State Basketball teams. Austin, Dylan Rogers and Joe Rogers were selected to the all-county team.
The success the Panthers earned on the courts and the football field carried over into the spring sports.
Alyssa Gilley advanced to the golf sub-state round after shooting 120 at the Class 1A-3A Section 3 girls golf tournament at Silver Lakes near Glencoe on May 2. It was the fourth year in a row Spring Garden had a golfer advance to the sub-state round.
Spring Garden's junior high baseball team won the Cherokee County Junior High Baseball Tournament at Sand Rock. The Panthers defeated Cedar Bluff 7-1 on March 25 in the tournament championship game.
The Panther varsity baseball team won its area and clinched a first-round playoff series against Vina. Spring Garden earned a sweep in the series, 12-2 and 12-0, to set up a second-round showdown at top-ranked Decatur Heritage. The Panthers' season ended at 20-8 following a pair of losses, 6-5 and 10-1.
Austin, Ivey, Dawson Broome, Joe Rogers, Austin Slayton and Christian Crider were All-Cherokee County team selections. Broome was a second-team selection at first base on the ASWA Class 1A All-State Baseball teams.
After the bitter way their basketball season ended, the Lady Panther softball team shook it off to make another championship run.
Spring Garden took Sand Rock to the if-necessary game, but fell short of its third straight Cherokee County Softball Tournament championship in a 6-5 loss in a game that ended just past midnight on March 25. The Lady Panthers won by the same score in the previous game to force the if-necessary contest.
Spring Garden went on to win its fourth straight area softball championship May 2 with a 15-0 victory over Faith Christian in three innings. The Lady Panthers also earned a 19-0 victory in three innings over Faith in their tournament opener.
The Lady Panthers then swept their way through the Class 1A North Central Softball Regional championship in Tuscaloosa. They defeated Appalachian 10-1 to clinch the title and another trip to the state tournament in Montgomery. Other regional wins were against Berry (10-0) and Addison (9-0).
The Lady Panthers finished fourth at the Class 1A state tournament at Lagoon Park. They opened with a 1-0 victory over Ragland, then fell 13-0 to Brantley in five innings on May 18. The next day, Spring Garden eliminated Marion County 15-4 in five innings, but then fell to Sumiton Christian 13-6 to end its season at 29-18.
Several Lady Panthers earned postseason softball recognition. McGinnis, Broome, Kerstin Bryant and Payton Traffanstedt were selected to the all-county team. McGinnis was chosen as the first-team shortstop on the ASWA's Class 1A All-State Softball teams. Traffanstedt was a second-team selection at designated hitter. Bryant garnered a second-team utility spot.
Speaking of Bryant, the rising senior pitcher was chosen to represent the North at the North-South All-Star Softball series in Montgomery on July 18. Tiyonna Rogers was also selected for the North-South All-Star Girls Basketball game on July 19.