E.A. Sports Today

Sacred Heart survives

Cardinals win first game shorthanded due to sanctions, freshman Miller and several deep reserves step up to keep them rolling; because of schedule the sanctions will last six games instead of four

Jack Miller (4) had a confident shot for a freshman playing his first varsity game in Sacred Heart's 89-69 win over Faith Christian. (Photo by Kristen Stringer/KrispPics Photography)

Jack Miller (4) had a confident shot for a freshman playing his first varsity game in Sacred Heart’s 89-69 win over Faith Christian. (Photo by Kristen Stringer/KrispPics Photography)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

ANNISTON (Dec. 8) — No matter how many games Jack Miller plays the rest of his life, he’s never, ever going to forget Thursday night.

The freshman guard got pulled up from the junior varsity to help top-ranked Sacred Heart get through this now-six-game stretch without its best players and delivered 18 points as the Cardinals proved they still can’t be beaten in Class 1A, beating No. 9 area challenger Faith Christian 89-69. The Cardinals haven’t lost to a Class 1A team from the state of Alabama since the 2014 Final Four.

The two-time reigning Class 1A state champions were playing the first of what will become six-game suspensions for five players — four starters and two Division I prospects — for leaving the bench area for ostensibly checking on the welfare of a teammate after a hard foul late in Friday’s win over Spring Garden.

The sanctions cover three regular-season games and, because of the way the schedule falls, all three games in the Steel City Invitational. The next game is Saturday against Class 7A No. 1 Mountain Brook in what was expected to be the marquee game of the TV 24 Holiday Showcase at Jacksonville State.

The penalties left the Cardinals (9-1) with five varsity players, but coach Ralph Graves brought up his entire JV to fill in the vacancies and those who got in the game had a significant impact. It wasn’t like Graves was just throwing his less-heralded charges to the Lions (2-6); if he didn’t think they could contribute they wouldn’t play.

Most of the Cardinals’ action, as expected, went through remaining starter Kevion Nolan (38 points) and sixth-man Khalil Watkins (22), but the reserves and call-ups also played major supporting roles. Without their effort in the first half it would have been a four-point game at the break.

“I can’t say enough about how the boys played,” Graves said. “They played hard, they were ready to go; I mean, that’s what it’s about.

“Those boys who played tonight, a lot of them didn’t expect that they could do that. Well, we kind of know what we can do. … Those kids know what’s expected out of them and those kids played hard and they work hard. For them to do that for our program says a lot about those kids.

“We’re a team and it’s a program at the end of the day and we’ll just take our punches to the face and when we come back fully loaded you’ll know.”

Varsity reserve Caleb LaFollette made it known early the backups had game, too, hitting a 3-pointer to give the Cardinals a 7-3 lead. He hit two 3s in the game.

Another varsity reserve, Jon Riley Miller, scored three fourth-quarter points and mixed it up inside throughout the game for a couple rebounds. A third reserve, Jaylin Croft, played the whole game and showed he belonged even if he didn’t score.

JV big man Zane Marion drew cheers for his bucket in the fourth quarter, but the widest eyes were reserved for a freshman named Jack.

Miller has been practicing with the varsity all year, but the Cardinals choose to play him on the lower level so he gets quality minutes. One of the main scorers on the B team, he made an impression Thursday with five points in the second quarter but left a mark with 13 in the fourth. He hit two corner 3s in the quarter and had three in the game. He was 7-of-12 from the field, 3-of-5 from beyond the arc.

“It was my first game with the varsity — me playing actually — and it was really fun,” he told reporters outside the tunnel before Graves whisked him away. “Coach Ralph told me in the locker room you’re one of the best of the young people and you’re probably going to play tonight.

“I was real nervous at the beginning, but as the game went on I was all right. It felt amazing. Coach Ralph always tells us to just go out and play ball, just to have fun with it, and that’s what we did.”

Graves said the Cardinals will “go about our business as usual” as the sanction period progresses and insisted the ruling “is not going to break” their program. How much and in what order the reserves get to play during his period depends on what happens in practice in between the games.

There was a idea the Cardinals might be able to wrap up the suspensions before the Steel City Invitational by moving a game from later on the schedule into the suspension window, but Graves said they were told by AHSAA officials that wasn’t an option. By the sake token, the state office told them, Steel City Invitational officials were prohibited from rescinding Sacred Heart’s invitation in light of the sanctions because of contract obligations.

The sanctions certainly lessen the appeal of Saturday’s TV24 game with Mountain Brook. There were reports event organizers tried to shuffle participating teams to make a more appealing matchup, but got no takers. The game will go as scheduled.

“It’s still going to be great,” Graves said. “If we win, we’ll be the greatest team to ever play. And if we lose, I’ll show people how to lose with grace.”

Zane Marion and the rest of the Sacred Heart reserves who played a role in the Cardinals' victory Thursday night had reason to be excited. (Photo by Kristen Stringer/KrispPics Photography)

Zane Marion and the rest of the Sacred Heart reserves who played a role in the Cardinals’ victory Thursday night had reason to be excited. (Photo by Kristen Stringer/KrispPics Photography)

Sacred Heart girls 54, Faith Chrsitian 50 (OT)

Jacque Beyerle’s putback gave the Lady Cardinals the lead in overtime, but the area victory wasn’t secured until Myiah Harris’ two free throws with 2.9 seconds to play.

Sacred Heart’s Ayana Foster led all scorers with 23 points. It was her free throw with 6.7 seconds left in regulation after being fouled hard into her team’s bench that forced overtime.

Her basket with 21.8 seconds left tied the game at 47 before Emily Sills put Faith ahead with a free throw 10 seconds later.

Faith led by 11 late in the third quarter before the Lady Cardinals put together the run that got them back in the game.

Sacred Heart 89, Faith Christian 69
Riley Camp 1 1-2 4, Jordan Griswould 9 9-13 27, Jameson Adams 1 0-0 2, Seth Cravens 2 0-0 6, Jack Sills 5 3-8 13, Michael Kulick 2 0-0 6, Michael McGraw 4 1-4 11. Totals 24 14-27 69.

SACRED HEART (9-1) – Jaylin Croft 0 0-0 0, Jack Miller 7 1-1 18, Caleb Lafollette 2 0-0 6, Jon Riley Miller 1 1-2 3, Kevion Nolan 11 15-17 38, Khalil Watkins 9 4-5 22, Zane Marion 1 0-0 2. Totals 31 21-25 89.

Faith Christian 17 19 18 15 — 69
Sacred Heart 23 25 17 24 — 89

3-point goals: Faith 7 (Camp, Cravens 2, Kulick 2, McGraw 2); Sacred Heart 6 (J. Miller 3, Lafollette 2, Nolan). Total fouls: Faith 15, Sacred Heart 16. Officials: Allen, Davis, Hinkle.

Sacred Heart 54, Faith Christian 50 (OT)
Emily Sills 2 4-7 10, Shelley Phillips 0 0-0 0, Montana Huie 1 0-1 2, Zana Christjohn 3 0-2 6, SJ Christjohn 0 0-0 0, Kristin Covington 2 0-0 4, Sydnee Johnson 3 5-6 11, CJ Sellers 1 0-0 2, Regan Crosby 0 1-2 1, SK McVeigh 0 0-0 0, Logan Boyd 4 3-4 14. Totals 16 13-22 50.

SACRED HEART — Abby Vingers 4 0-1 8, Sophia Allen 0 0-0 0, Sydney Marion 1 0-0 2, Ayana Foster 7 9-29 23, Angel Nguyen 1 0-0 2, Jacque Beyerle 1 0-0 2, Andrea Torres 0 0-0 0, Jennifer Le 0 0-0 0, Myiah Harris 5 2-4 12, Amari Curry 2 1-2 5. Totals 21 12-36 54.

Faith Christian 4 16 15 13 2 — 50
Sacred Heart 14 4 10 20 6 — 54

3-point goals: Faith 5 (Sills 2, Boyd 3). Fouled out: Sills, Phillips, Covington, Allen, Foster. Total fouls: Faith 22, Sacred Heart 25. Officials: Allen, Hinkle, Davis.

On the cover: The Sacred Heart bench erupts to celebrate after its group of mostly reserves defeated Faith Christian Thursday night. (Photo by Kristen Stringer/KrispPics Photography)

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