On Saturday, the Lady Panthers found themselves in another one of those heartstopping finishes when they welcomed defending Class 4A state champion and third-ranked Jacksonville to Dale Welsh Gymnasium.
After junior guard Haley Motes connected on the game-tying 3-pointer with 16.3 seconds remaining, Jacksonville forward Kenyatta Ervin put the Lady Golden Eagles back up on a drive to the goal. Ervin made the shot with 5.7 seconds left.
Ervin was also fouled on the play, but she missed the ensuing free throw. Spring Garden senior forward Tori Pierce grabbed the rebound to give the Lady Panthers one last chance to tie or take the win.
Junior guard Auburn Kirk fired a desperation shot away as time expired. The shot missed the mark, but a whistle blew on the play. However, game officials quickly decided the foul came after the buzzer sounded, allowing Jacksonville to escape with a 50-48 victory.
"He called a foul on the floor, and I believe he made the right call, but Auburn shot the ball after he blowed the whistle," Spring Garden coach Ricky Austin said. "I thought it was far enough away that it wasn't continuation. I thought he was a second late on the whistle, and then she shot it. It wasn't a 1-and-1, and I thought he made the right call. I didn't think it was on the shot. I thought it was before the shot. I couldn't argue it."
Austin made his point even further for not arguing the call after pointing to two Lady Panther stats: 30 turnovers and an 8-of-17 performance from the free-throw line.
"If we would have done those things well, we wouldn't have been in that situation anyway," Austin said.
The heartbreaking loss came after Spring Garden (3-3) had battled back from a 13-point deficit in the third quarter. Jacksonville coach Ryan Chambless had told his Lady Golden Eagles (5-0) that the Lady Panthers were not going to go away without a fight.
"I told the girls before the game that Coach Austin is one of the best coaches in the state, if not the best," Chambless said. "His girls always play extremely hard, and I kept telling them we've got to score because they're not going away.
"I think we kind of went cold and got a little tired, then here they come. I kept telling them they weren't done and they're going to keep coming. We've got to do a better job of keeping a lead like that and not let a team come back, especially a team like that who's not going to quit. We're lucky to come here and win that one."
Jacksonville held a 12-8 lead at the end of the first quarter and extended its advantage to 34-25 at halftime.
Six-foot-1 senior forward Sharon Osterbind, who led all scorers with 22 points, gave the Lady Golden Eagles their biggest lead of the game at 39-26 on a bucket inside with 5:01 remaining in the third quarter. Spring Garden managed to cut its deficit down to eight at 39-31 heading into the fourth quarter.
Lady Panther sophomore guard Emory Reedy took things on her shoulders in the fourth quarter. She scored eight of her 10 points in the final frame, which led to Motes' game-tying 3-pointer with 16.3 seconds to go.
Motes led the Lady Panthers with 17 points. Tykeah Leek contributed seven points and six boards. Pierce finished with five points, eight rebounds, four assists and a steal.
Osterbind added four rebounds, three steals and two blocks in addition to her 22 points for Jacksonville. Angel Kidd tallied 11 points, four assists and three steals. Ervin finished with seven points, eight boards, four steals and a blocked shot.
"We've got to make sure we correct some of the stuff (like free-throw shooting and turnovers) that something else doesn't take its spot, and our girls will be fine," Austin said. "That's exactly where our girls are right now. As soon as we correct one thing, there's something else that takes its spot - whether it's offensive execution or defensive breakdowns.
"They've been in some tough games this year already, and they have battled hard from behind. They're still young in some spots, but overall I'm pleased with what we can do with them."