E.A. Sports Today

Oxford champs

Yellow Jackets finally solve the riddle of Sacred Heart, win county title behind freshman MVP Garrett

Tournament MVP Zondrick Garrett and Kendrick Foster (10) celebrate Oxford’s county tournament title. On the cover, the Jackets’ bench erupts after the victory is secured. (Photos by Dave Brandsma)

2017 Calhoun County Tournament combined bracket – BOTH BRACKETS
(Brackets by Kurt Duryea)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE – The players on every sports team at Oxford High School will tell you their primary focus is on the ultimate prize, winning a state championship. The county tournament is but another step on that road, and has its place.

To understand how important it is to the Yellow Jackets get sophomore point guard Eugene Leonard to let you look at his phone sometime.

Buried deep in his notes app is a list of 10 “life goals” he looks at every night before he goes to bed. The third item on the list, just below “lead” and “get as skilled as I can”– and just in front of “win state” — is win the Calhoun County Tournament.

Oxford had been taking its lumps in the tournament at the hands of Sacred Heart for the last three years, but the Yellow Jackets finally had their day Saturday. They won their first county title since 2013 when they took down the top-seeded and top-ranked (1A) Cardinals 76-68 in front a loud packed house at Pete Mathews Coliseum.

“I’m just excited for them,” Jackets coach Joel Van Meter said. “We won it three years in a row and I’m just going to be honest with you, they’re (Sacred Heart) good and they pounded us (the last two years) and messed our psyche up a little bit.”

Zondrick Garrett, a Jackets’ freshman post who plays older than his years, was named tournament MVP. He scored 10 points on a night when virtually everyone in a gold uniform made a major contribution, but he was particularly effective in an unforgettable third quarter in which the Jackets held the two-time reigning state champions to four points – one field goal – and rallied from a nine-point halftime deficit to take a 10-point lead.

“I don’t know what to say,” Garrett said. “In the end there it got very emotional; I almost cried. The reason I got it is because of my family; not (called) the team, it’s my family. I’m glad to have them by my side every time.”

This game will be remembered for many things. For all the momentum swings it had, the stretch VanMeter will remember most is that third quarter. It was the kind of quarter you’d expect from the Cardinals back in December when they were missing their four suspended starters, not on the biggest stage in town when they had all but one of their weapons available.

The Cardinals put together a run of six straight 3-pointers to build their halftime lead and the sense was they were on the verge of breaking open the game. D.J. Heath made the first basket of the third quarter, but the Cardinals didn’t make another until Kahlil Watkins’ hit early in the fourth quarter in part of a run that brought them back to 62-60 with 4:30 left to play.

Garrett made three memorable plays in the quarter. He drove the length of the floor for a layup that gave Oxford the lead 51-50. Then, he drew a foul while making another layup and missed the and-one, but kept the rebound alive that Jakolbe McClendon converted into a bucket for a 57-50 lead.

“I’m sure nobody knew a whole lot about him,” VanMeter said. “I’d say everybody knows about him now.”

An anticipated matchup between Garrett and Diante Wood didn’t materialize because the Cardinals’ post had to sit out because of his two-tech ejection in the semifinals the night before. Still, the Cardinals found a way to absorb his absence and still make their way.

It was largely through Heath and Kevion Nolan, but Dakota Myers, Watkins and Murdock Simmons had their moments. Nolan had 20 points and Heath 17.

Heath and Nolan combined for seven 3-pointers in the game. The Cardinals made seven 3s in the first half, despite VanMeter’s constant reminders to be aware of that part of the game, but they didn’t have any in the second half until a final flurry at the end of the game.

Heath and Nolan both hit a pair of 3s in a stretch of six in a row that carried the Cardinals to their big halftime lead. Oxford made its big third-quarter run, though, after Nolan had picked up his fourth foul with 4:28 left.

“We weren’t playing our game so when we came out of that locker room we just had a different mentality to come out and do something better,” Garrett said. “We already knew we were better than them, but we had to do what we had to do.”

Oxford guard Eugene Leonard (12) protects the ball as he drives between Kevion Nolan (23) and Dakota Myers during the boys county championship title game. (Photo by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

Oxford 76, Sacred Heart 68
Markise Davis 6 1-3 16, Simeon Shadrix 2 0-0 6, Jakolbe McClendon 4 0-2 8, Caden Higgins 0 0-0 0, Kendrick Foster 0 0-2 0, Eugene Leonard 5 3-8 13, Zondrick Garrett 5 0-0 10, Braden Mack 3 1-2 8, Ty Davis 6 2-2 15. Totals 31 7-19 76.

SACRED HEART – Murdock Simmons 4 1-2 10, D.J. Heath 5 5-8 17, Caleb Lafollette 0 0-0 0, Dakota Myers 1 4-6 6, Stephen Stancil 1 2-2 5, Kevion Nolan 6 3-4 20, Kahlil Watkins 5 0-0 10. Totals 22 15-22 68.

Oxford 20 17 23 16 — 76
Sacred Heart 19 27 4 18 — 68

3-point goals: Oxford 7 (M. Davis 3, Shadrix 2, Mack, T. Davis); Sacred Heart 9 (Simmons, Heath 2, Stancil, Nolan 5). Fouled out: Garrett, Watkins. Total fouls: Oxford 14, Sacred Heart 22.


Kevion Nolan, Sacred Heart
Marrio Dobbins, Anniston
Austin Tucker, Ohatchee
Easton Kirk, Piedmont
Dalton Dodd, Alexandria
Tray Huguley, Saks
Michael McGuirk, White Plains
Macey Carr, White Plains
Braden Mack, Oxford
Reed Murphy, Jacksonville Christian
Ben Glass, Ohatchee
Diante Wood, Sacred Heart
Eugene Leonard, Oxford
DeVaunghn Beason, Saks
Jordan Griswould, Faith Christian

Outstanding Offensive Player: D.J. Heath, Sacred Heart
Outstanding Defensive Player: Zondrick Garrett, Oxford
Most Valuable Player: Zondrick Garrett, Oxford

Sacred Heart’s D.J. Heath was named the outstanding offensive player of the Calhoun County boys tournament. (Photo by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

To view more of B.J. Franklin’s photos from the Calhoun County Tournament, visit www.bjfranklin.smugmug.com
To view more of Dave Brandsma’s photos from the Calhoun County Tournament, visit www.camerainnandbikes.com

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