E.A. Sports Today

Cardinals fly high

Sacred Heart threatens to score 100 points for the third game in a row; specter of recruiting raised after the game

Spring Garden's Dylan Rogers (5) can only watch the results as Kevion Nolan follows through on a jumper from the corner. Nolan scored 25 of his 37 points in the second half Thursday. On the cover, D.J. Heath strikes a defensive pose against Dakota Lambert. (Photos by Kristen Stringer/Krisp Pics Photography)

Spring Garden’s Dylan Rogers (5) can only watch the results as Kevion Nolan follows through on a jumper from the corner. Nolan scored 25 of his 37 points in the second half Thursday. On the cover, D.J. Heath strikes a defensive pose against Dakota Lambert. (Photos by Kristen Stringer/Krisp Pics Photography)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE — Sacred Heart had another day of fun on the basketball court Thursday as it continued to drive for the state championship trophy to match the one already in its case, but what was discussed afterwards wasn’t fun at all.

The top-ranked Cardinals rolled over Spring Garden 94-48 in the semifinals of the Class 1A Northeast Regional at Jacksonville State. They will play Winterboro for the region championship Monday at 4:45 p.m.

Kevion Nolan had 37 points and nine rebounds and D.J. Heath 25 to lead them. Together they were 26-of-35 from the floor, 7-of-13 from 3-point range. Heath was 11-of-14.

“We just come to play,” Sacred Heart coach Ralph Graves said. “We have some pretty highly skilled players on our team and to see them come out and make shots … that’s something they can never get tired of. They have continue to do that … or this trophy we’re playing for now … it will not be at our school, it will be at someone else’s school.”

Spring Garden (16-15), with only one player who had been in this regional environment before, played with the defending state champions for a quarter. Then, Sacred Heart’s highly skilled players picked up their defense and forced a spate of turnovers that touched off a 28-3 run that led to a 50-22 halftime lead.

The Cardinals (26-8), who haven’t lost to a 1A team in three years and beat four 7A teams this season, scored 32 points off the 18 turnovers they created.

“That opened it up to the pace they wanted,” Spring Garden coach Ricky Austin said. “They got a hungry look in their eyes when they started sensing we were turning the ball over and did a good job extending the lead on us.”

Austin gave the Cardinals props for being possibly the best team in the state – any classification – but joined the chorus of coaches across the state with concerns about the way private schools like Sacred Heart “can control the quality of their players.”

A sign behind the Spring Garden bench expressed the concern. “Homegrown, not handpicked,” it read in support of their players.

The sign didn’t go unnoticed by the Sacred Heart coaching staff, and it stung.

“I’m not going to be (Panthers quarterback) Cam (Newton) up here and be a sore loser, but I am going to say the system is not fair,” Austin said. “They have an uneven way they can control the quality of their players. You can call me a whiner, but it’s not just me. It’s statewide. It’s from the North. It’s to the South. There are other people sitting behind a mic saying the same thing.

“No disgrace to Sacred Heart … they’re a great team. No disgrace to Coach Graves … he’s a great coach. Those are great individual players. But the system is not fair to the way they can control the quality of their players.”

Holly Pond girls coach Scott Adams ramped up the argument Monday night after his team lost to 3A power private Madison Academy in their subregional game, telling the Cullman Times it was “upsetting” the Alabama High School Association “does nothing” about the perceived inequity. Those schools are assessed a 1.35 multiplier in the classification system, but Austin concedes “there’s no good answer” to address the issue at present.

And he has an ear to the issue as close as anyone. His principal, Mike Welsh, is the president of the AHSAA Board of Control.

“You can do the demographics of the school and there’s not that many great players in one school … unless something is encouraging that out,” Austin said. “The state has got to look, and they say they are.

“It’s the way they control the quality of their players. Private schools do have an advantage on that and you know what that advantage is — they can offer things to come here and play. We cannot do that and there’s where the control comes into effect, and they do a great job of it.

“If that’s the way the rule is going to be, it should be the same rule for everybody. We should be able to offer something also to get the player we want to come there. Somewhere, somehow, somebody’s got to say, hey, I have something for you to come here. That many just don’t show up.”

Graves said no player on his team was offered a scholarship, several were already attending Sacred Heart before he got there and all except one come from within the predetermined population territory set by the AHSAA (and he has been going there since pre-K).

The Cardinals’ coach countered nobody seemed to complain when he first got to Sacred Heart and the same players who nearly scored 100 for the third game in a row Thursday — obviously younger then — weren’t winning. Or, more recently, were “rejoicing” when they lost to Anniston in this year’s County Tournament.

“Don’t hate our glory if you don’t know our story,” Graves said.

He said any complaint about Sacred Heart’s mission is a “slap in the face” to parents who want better opportunities for their children.

“If they don’t go to Sacred Heart, what school are they supposed to go to; everybody expects them to go to Anniston,” Graves said. “The last time I checked Anniston, Faith Christian, Sacred Heart and Donoho all share the same athletic school district. You live in the City of Anniston you have rights to those four schools. (It used to be) you have to go to public school — you have to. But now it’s not like that.

“Now, you give kids an alternative to get a better education, to put them in a better environment and what happened was they weren’t supposed to get what they got with that and athletically, too. Now you get to grow a kid spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, athletically.

“I’m not a parent, but if I were and I had a choice to send my kids to a school, who determines that? Does the coach determine that? So basically (to) those same people complaining are you mad at the parents, because they’re the ones who had to fill out the paperwork. They want what’s best for their kids. They’ve got to pay like everybody else.”

Spring Garden can expect to see a lot more of the Cardinals – and the other private schools in Calhoun County – over the next two years as it has been placed in the same area with Sacred Heart, Donoho, Jacksonville Christian and Faith Christian in the latest wave of reclassification.

Graves suggested anybody with a complaint about the way Sacred Heart does things on or off the basketball floor should direct it toward principal Charlie Maniscalco or him directly.

Sacred Heart 94, Spring Garden 48

SPRING GARDEN (16-15) – Riley Austin 5-11 1-2 11, Dakota Lambert 2-3 0-0 4, Ben Ivey 1-8 1-2 3, Dylan Rogers 5-12 4-4 15, Draevan Bowman 3-5 0-0 9, Luke Ivey 0-0 0-0 0, Joe Rogers 1-3 4-5 6, Avery Gowens 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 17-42 10-13 48.

SACRED HEART (26-8) – Diante Wood 4-6 3-5 11, Kavarri Ross 3-10 2-2 9, Samuel Miller 0-0 0-0 0, D.J. Heath 11-14 0-0 25, Kevion Nolan 15-21 3-3 37, Murdock Simmons 2-2 0-0 4, Caleb Lafollette 0-1 0-0 0, Stephen Stansil 2-4 0-0 6, Jon Riley Miller 1-1 0-0 2, Jaylin Croft 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 38-60 8-10 94.

Spring Garden 15 7 14 12 — 48
Sacred Heart 21 29 24 20 — 94

3-point goals: Spring Garden 4-9 (B. Ivey 0-3, D. Rogers 1-2, Bowman 3-4); Sacred Heart 10-24 (Ross 1-6, Heath 3-5, Nolan 4-8, Stansil 2-4, Croft 0-1). Rebounds: Spring Garden 20 (Lambert 6); Sacred Heart 32 (Heath 9). Total fouls: Spring Garden 12, Sacred Heart 17. Officials: Courtney Walker, Brian Wakefield, Julius Griffin.

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