E.A. Sports Today

Reluctant MVP

Cardinals’ Wood earns award after second double-double of Final Four, tops it off with a dunk that put exclamation point on victory

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

BIRMINGHAM — Diante Wood didn’t set out looking to be the most valuable player of the tournament. There was another trophy he was trying to get his hands around.

As it turned out, the Sacred Heart sophomore posted up on both.

Wood was named the MVP of the Class 1A Final Four Thursday after scoring 30 points, grabbing 13 rebounds and blocking five shots in a 95-75 victory over Georgiana that brought the state championship trophy he really wanted.

“If it wasn’t for my teammates and my coaches to let me get the ball and let me go score the ball I wouldn’t have this right now,” he said. “I really don’t care about MVP; it really matters about getting the blue trophy.”

It’s the second year in a row Wood and the Cardinals have wrapped their wings around the blue state championship hardware.

As for the MVP, Wood and teammate D.J. Heath were staging quite a battle for it. Everything ran through Heath; he scored 29 points on 7-of-13 shooting from the floor and 15-of-22 shooting from the free throw line. Wood was 11-of-17 from the field. He had 17 points and all five of his blocks in the first half as the Cardinals opened a 48-33 lead.

“Diante played extremely well; you can’t say enough about how efficient he is when he plays,” Cardinals coach Ralph Graves said. “I’m proud of him he played a game like that – a stellar game like that, in the state championship.”

If neither were already, Wood sewed up the MVP award and the Cardinals state title with about 4:20 left in the game when he hooked up with Kevion Nolan for one of their signature alley-oop slams.

It gave the Cardinals a 25-point lead and virtually sapped whatever life the Panthers had left. Wood called it one of his best dunks of the season.

“Everybody was telling me all night I had to get a dunk and finally I got one and it was a sigh of relief,” he said. “When that happened I was like, ‘Oh, they’re going to give up now and it’s all over. It’s all in our hands now.’”

And that goes for both trophies.

As exhilarating as Wood’s dunk was, Graves might have been even more excited about what happened late in the game when Caleb Lafollette came off the bench in the closing seconds to drain the Cardinals’ final 3-pointer of the championship. He did the same thing in their Northeast Regional-clinching win over Winterboro.

“I don’t think that play was any bigger than what Caleb did,” Graves said. “I thought Caleb’s was bigger from an emotional standpoint. It showed the togetherness of our team.

“You’re talking about the last man on the bench to come in and make a 3. He’s 1-for-1. That’s 100 percent. He may get a lot of playing time next year shooting it like that.”

Cover photo: Kristen Stringer/Krisp Pics Photography

You must be logged in to post a comment Login