E.A. Sports Today

Cardinals come close to slaying Titans

UPDATED: Sacred Heart rallies from 23 down at half to get within 3 twice

Sacred Heart's Kevion Nolan (23) considers taking his Gadsden City defender to the basket or pulling up for one of his six 3-pointers. (Photo by Kristen Stringer/Krisp Pics Photography)

Sacred Heart’s Kevion Nolan (23) considers taking his Gadsden City defender to the basket or pulling up for one of his six 3-pointers. (Photo by Kristen Stringer/Krisp Pics Photography)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

GADSDEN – How many times have you heard this about a team in a game that on paper figures to be a mismatch: It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.

Tiny Sacred Heart gave 7A Gadsden City all it could handle in the second half Thursday night before falling in the season-opener for both teams 89-83.

The 1A Cardinals rallied from a 23-point halftime deficit to get within three twice in the final three minutes before the Titans finally put them away.

The game went about like everyone outside of Sacred Heart’s dressing room might expect between a 7A giant and an upset-minded 1A upstart. The Titans roared to a 56-33 lead at the break, but Diante Wood’s layup got the Cardinals within 81-78 with 2:55 to play and one of Kevion Nolan’s six 3-pointers made it 84-81 with 1:15 left.

“Everybody (on the team) kept believing,” Sacred Heart coach Ralph Graves said. “That’s big for our program because everybody thinks we’d come up here and get smashed by 40 because they’re 7A. You’ve got to understand we’ve got a few Division I players on our team. People around here are talking 7A and all this stuff and that doesn’t have anything to do with (how they play). We’re trying to establish a program. You’ve got to get after it.”

Nolan led Sacred Heart with 22 points. D.J. Heath had 21 points and eight rebounds. Wood had 20 points and eight boards. And Kavarri Ross had 15 points – all in the second half after gathering himself from three quick fouls in his first varsity game. They outscored the Titans 22-7 in the first seven minutes of the fourth quarter

Gadsden City’s Chris Dudley led all scorers with 23 points. Kevin Johnson scored the Titans’ last seven points of the game to personally keep the Cardinals at bay and finished with 20.

“Coach Graves instills in us to never give up,” Heath said. “At Sacred Heart we’re trying to bring up the program and use the motto ‘Never give up, always fight and go out with a bang.’ We’re not just going to lay down.

“It’s like a boxing ring. You go in there, you take a couple punches and you get back up and you keep fighting. We’ve faced adversity before. We’ve played bigger teams like this. It’s nothing new.”

The Cardinals’ early problems Thursday didn’t have anything to do with the size of the school they were playing; they simply made too many turnovers that would have hurt them against anybody. They even led 12-11 with 3:43 left in the first quarter, but then got loose and didn’t score again until just about a minute elapsed in the second.

They had eight turnovers of their 21 turnovers in their final 10 possessions of the quarter as the Titans opened a 31-12 lead. Nolan’s first 3-pointer ended the drought.

“I think they’ve gotten a little comfortable with coming back a little bit, but we need to come out fighting from the get go,” Graves said. “You have to play four complete quarters and that’s one of the things that we’re not doing a good job of.

“I think we’re playing two and a half good quarters, but we’re not playing solid enough for at least two quarters. We’re playing like totally terrible and then we’ll play like totally good. We have to find our happy medium where we’re playing at a consistent level the whole time.

“The good thing about our team is it’s not giving up. That’s there, so you know they have fight in them. Now we have to get to the point where instead of us sitting back taking punches, start delivering them.”

Titans coach Reginald Huff has an appreciation for smaller programs, having come to Gadsden City from Litchfield, and knew the Cardinals weren’t going away.

It is rare for a school as large as Gadsden City to go so far down in classification to find a game, but the Titans have just as much trouble getting games as the Cardinals and he was happy to give the little guy a chance to play way up. He said he’d even be willing to do it again – even if the Cardinals came thisclose to pulling off the upset.

“Competition is competition,” Huff said. “It doesn’t matter the size of your school or the number of people who have to choose from, talent is talent. They have a very talent group of young guys and we thank him for the opportunity to be tested early.

“They’re a very solid group of basketball players. They have a high IQ of the game. We came in at halftime and knew the game wasn’t over. That’s a team that went to the (1A) Final Four (last year). Anybody who has a team that’s a championship caliber team, I don’t care who you’re playing, they’re going to make a run and they’re going to fight ‘til the end.”

SACRED HEART (83) – Di. Wood 9 2-4 20, Ross 5 3-4 15, Heath 10 1-3 21, Orlowski 0 0-0 0, Nolan 8 0-0 22, Da. Wood 2 1-3 5, Mayfield 0 0-0 0, Nichols 0 0-0 0. Totals: 34 7-14 83.

GADSDEN CITY (89) – Hyde 2 1-2 5, Juddine 5 3-5 16, Waits 1 0-0 3, Johnson 5 10-13 20, Dudley 8 4-4 23, Spears 0 0-0 0, Crumpler 0 3-4 3, McKinney 2 0-0 4, Coats 0 1-2 1, Franklin 0 0-0 0, Jackson 2 1-4 5, Howard 1 0-0 3, Suttle 2 2-2 6. Totals: 28 25-36 89.

Sacred Heart 12 21 26 24 — 83
Gadsden City 26 30 21 12 — 89

3-Point Goals – Sacred Heart: Ross 2, Nolan 6; Gadsden City: Juddine 3, Waits, Dudley 3, Howard. Total fouls – Sacred Heart 23, Gadsden City 17. Fouled out – Di. Wood, Da. Wood.

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