E.A. Sports Today

Friday night fallout

UPDATED: Five Sacred Heart players suspended four games in the fallout of late-game tensions with Spring Garden last week; Heath appeals for civility

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

Five Sacred Heart players, including two of the Cardinals’ top three starters, are facing four-game suspensions in the fallout of a late-game incident during Friday night’s win over Spring Garden.

The five players — starters Diante Wood, D.J. Heath, Murdock Simmons and Dakota Myers and reserve Stephen Stancil — were disciplined by the AHSAA Monday for leaving the bench area during the game. There was no disciplinary action taken against Spring Garden.

Sacred Heart principal Charlie Maniscalco accepted the ruling and said the Cardinals will get through it. He declined to comment on only one side receiving penalties.

“We were in the wrong in leaving the bench,” Maniscalco said. “We’re not going to make any excuses.”

Sacred Heart won the game 70-34. The game was suspended with less a minute to play after tensions broke following Luke Ivey’s hard foul on Sacred Heart guard Kevion Nolan under the basket near the Cardinals bench. According to witnesses, players from both teams rose from the benches and there were heated exchanges among the coaches.

“When that happened they came off the bench, too, but nobody has it on film,” Mansicalco said. “We were wrong in leaving the bench, but it was not for the purpose of fighting or anything. They never touched any of their players. They went straight to Kevion because they were thinking he was hurt.

“There was no fighting, no anything. They did wrong in leaving the bench; I understand that completely.”

Sacred Heart coach Ralph Graves didn’t return messages seeking comment. Spring Garden coach Ricky Austin, speaking to reporters after his girls team played Anniston Monday night, said he wasn’t aware of the scope of the suspensions.

“It’s between the referee, the state association and their school; we’re not involved in it,” Austin said. “We had a hard foul on a kid late in the game. The referee reported it as a hard foul, not a flagrant foul. Evidently, five guys left their bench. We didn’t have anything to do with reporting it. The head official reported it and it’s all in their hands. I haven’t heard anything about who is suspended or anything else.”

The incident has sparked heated debate in social media.

There has been some bad blood between the programs since Spring Garden raised a question of Sacred Heart recruiting players after the Cardinals eliminated it from last year’s Northeast Regional tournament.

Heath, who hasn’t spoken to reporters much this season, went to the same social media Monday night with an appeal to return to civility.

“I know it’s a lot of buzz going around about us, but I want to say to my teammates and fans, please don’t feed into the negativity, name calling, etc.,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “We know who we are as people and as players. Let them continue to talk. We are going to continue our journey to another championship.”

The next four games on the two-time reigning state champion Cardinals schedule are an area game against Faith Christian Thursday, Mountain Brook Saturday, Whitefield (Ga.) Academy Dec. 17 and the Steel City Invitational Dec. 20.

It was uncertain if the Steel City Invitational in its entirety counted as one game (as a tournament date) or only the first-round game was impacted or if Monday’s decision impacts the Cardinals’ participation in the event. White Plains faced similar discipline several years ago and the players effected were prohibited from playing in its tournament in Destin.

Without its top players unavailable, Sacred Heart becomes a less appealing draw for high profile events. A Steel City Invitational official said Tuesday he wasn’t aware of Monday’s ruling and would need to look into the situation further before commenting on the Cardinals’ status with the event.

The Cardinals are 4-0 in area play so far this season and have not lost to an instate Class 1A team since the 2014 Final Four.

“That’s huge,” Faith Christian coach Brad Yarbrough said. “You’re looking at a totally different team. You’re thinking that’s two of the best players in the state of Alabama who possibly could not be playing. That’s big.”

The Mountain Brook game is the grand final of the TV24 Holiday Challenge at Jacksonville State. Whether the four-game suspensions begins immediately and run concurrently is not certain, but the game is on as scheduled.

“According to Ralph, they’re playing,” TV24’s Mickey Shaddrix said. “I talked to him this morning and he said they’re playing no matter what the ruling is. I didn’t ask him who was available or what’s affected. I just asked if he was keeping the game.”

You must be logged in to post a comment Login