E.A. Sports Today

Cardinals fly into finals

Sacred Heart knocks off another big school, reaches County Tournament final for third year in a row

Kevion Nolan (23) drives to the basket between Oxford's Torry Robertson (1) and Jakolbie McClendon. Below, Diante Wood slams home one of his two dunks. (Photos by Kristen Stringer/Krisp Pics Photography)

Kevion Nolan (23) drives to the basket between Oxford’s Torry Robertson (1) and Jakolbie McClendon. Below, Diante Wood slams home one of his two dunks. (Photos by Kristen Stringer/Krisp Pics Photography)

By Jason Katz
For East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE – When Sacred Heart beat Oxford in the semifinals of last year’s Calhoun County Tournament, it was a big deal at the time because it was the first time the tiny Cardinals had taken down one of the state’s mega-schools.

In the 65th rendition of the same tournament Friday the storyline has stayed the same. Only this time with wins over the two of the biggest schools in the state already this year, beating up on the big boys is not a rarity for the Cardinals anymore.

The top seeded top-ranked Cardinals handedly beat the fifth-seeded Yellow Jackets 70-46 in a matchup many saw as an attempt to dethrone the local powerhouse that also happens to be the defending tournament champion. Now, they will play second-seeded Anniston for the crown Saturday at 8 p.m.

It will be their third straight year in the finals and second time they’ve played Anniston, where Cardinals coach Ralph Graves played and coached, for the championship.

Sacred Heart is a 1A school with nearly 900 fewer students than 6A Oxford, but that made no difference as the Cardinals took off in the game and never looked back.

The game was scheduled to start at 5:30 p.m., but due to inclement weather in the area it started at 3:30. The change did not slow the Cardinals and Diante Wood.

Wood led all scorers with 24 points.

“We had to adjust because they moved the game up due to weather,” Wood said. “Coach Graves always says we have to adjust. Adjust in life and adjust in basketball. Today we did that.”

The start of the game led the fans to believe the Cardinals were going to steam roll their way to the finals. Kevion Nolan had three 3-pointers while Wood scored eight points. They held Oxford scoreless until late in the first quarter.

A minor charge by Oxford and sophomore Braden Jones in the second half was the only sound the Jackets made in this semifinal as they were outmatched and outplayed by the dominant Cardinal team.

Eugene Leonard had 15 points for the Yellow Jackets, who had won nine of their last 11. Junior Jakolbe McClendon had 12 points with six rebounds while Jones scored 10.

Diante Wood started off the second half with a dunk and followed later in the fourth with another. He and Nolan shadowed each other throughout the game, feeding of each other’s energy.

Nolan finished with 18 points. DJ Heath had 14 points while Kavarri Ross scored 10.

Rebounding was another advantage that helped the Cardinals. Nolan had five, Ross had seven and Heath had five, making it a point in the first quarter as he set the tempo for his team.

“It’s going to take us to do what we’ve been doing to win this tournament,” Wood said. “Boxing out and rebounding well like we did today is important to our success.

It seems with every game that the Cardinals play they get stronger. Playing in a bigger arena has almost become second nature for this team. Their ability to play with ease and passion with each venue has created a powerhouse.

“We are not worried about what happened last year,” Nolan said. “We just want to get better and do what we do and not let others dictate how we play. As long as we do that, I think we are the best at what we do.”

Sacred Heart 70, Oxford 46

OXFORD – Torry Robertson 0 0-0 0, Jalen Moore 2 1-2 5, Jakolbe McClendon 5 1-2 12, Eugene Leonard 6 2-2 15, Jordan Swain 2 0-1 4, Braden Jones 3 4-7 10, Zach Lackey 0 0-0 0. Totals 18 8-14 46.

SACRED HEART – Diante Wood 8 7-8 24, Kavarri Ross 3 2-3 10, Samuel Miller 0 0-0 0, Murdock Simmons 2 0-0 4, D.J. Heath 6 1-3 14, Kevion Nolan 7 1-1 18. Totals 26 11-15 70.

Oxford 5 13 18 10 — 46
Sacred Heart 11 15 23 21 — 70

3-point goals: Oxford 2 (McClendon, Leonard); Sacred Heart 7 (Wood, Ross 2, Heath, Nolan 3). Total fouls: Oxford 14, Sacred Heart 14. Officials: Hicks, Bugg, Clark.


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