E.A. Sports Today

Another step forward

Sacred Heart wins another area championship, completes another step on its way back to Birmingham

The Sacred Heart Cardinals gather around the champion’s plaque after winning another Class 1A Area 10 title Saturday. (Photos by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

In the closing minutes of Sacred Heart’s latest win over another overmatched Class 1A opponent something strange was happening.

The pace that usually is quite fast where the Cardinals are concerned suddenly was down to a virtual stop. Spring Garden’s Riley Austin, his team already down 30, was simply holding the ball near midcourt and the top-ranked Cardinals were content to stand inside the 3-point arc and wait.

This could have gone on for the rest of the game if they wanted. Finally, Diante Wood came out to challenge. The Panthers eventually got a layup out of the deal and the game resumed as normal.

A few minutes later Wood and the Cardinals were celebrating a 70-38 win for another Class 1A Area 10 tournament championship. Whatever the Panthers were attempting to do didn’t bother them at all.

“We’re not worried what the other team does,” Sacred Heart coach Ralph Graves said. “If you hold the ball like that, you’re doing it because of us. We dictated what you did and that’s how we want to play. We want to dictate the tempo of how we’re going to play the game.

“We’re going to go about our business the same way we been going. It seems to work.”

Austin explained his reasoning for the ploy, which brought the expected reaction from the Miller Gym crowd, had nothing to do with sending any type of message. It was simply a chance to work on a piece of strategy in a live-game situation.

When the margin gets to the point it was in the fourth quarter there eventually comes a time when the best course of action was for Austin to start working on things that could work in Tuesday’s sub-regional game at Coosa Christian and, if the Panthers are so fortunate, beyond. The Cardinals, meanwhile, will host Ragland in their Activities Center in their cross-over game.

“We talked about when we do a certain offense if you’re not guarded, hold it, no matter the situation,” Austin said. “I’m still practicing for down the road. I might have to use this Tuesday night and if we come off that handoff and they don’t want to guard us, we’re going to hold the ball. I’m just using it as practice.

“I can’t put this in my gym. That was an opportunity to practice against great athletes. We might have to use this against Coosa Christian; they have a similar pressure. I got what I wanted out, it. They broke and came up and guarded us. That’s what I wanted to do so I could practice. It was all about practicing and getting better for the next game.”

A few minutes later the shoe was on the other foot. It was the Cardinals’ turn to dribble in place at midcourt while Spring Garden sat back through the final minute. Only this time, tournament MVP D.J. ended the drama by drilling a 3-pointer right before the final horn sounded.

As answer to the previous gambit, perhaps?

“I was just having fun,” Heath said. “I’m not trying to step on any toes.”

By the time all this began the Cardinals had their latest area tournament title in the bag. They jumped out to an early double-digit lead. After the Panthers cut it back to six, the Cardinals went on the run that led to a 19-point halftime lead.

Heath’s game-ending 3-point gave him 18 points in the game, but as opponents have learned over the years he brings so much more to the Cardinals than scoring. Teammate Kevion Nolan led all scorers with 24 points. Wood had 19.

Heath was joined on the all-tournament team by teammates Nolan and Caleb LaFollette; Spring Garden’s Austin and Dylan Rogers; Donoho’s Garrett Steed, JCA’s Reed Murphy and Faith Christian’s Jordan Griswould.

For Heath, it was a typical big night on another big stage.

“I think it’s in me,” he said. “When I come from it’s tough. It’s either do or die, eat or be eaten; that’s the attitude I have. I hate losing. I do whatever it takes to win.

“There’s a level of greatness we’re trying to (reach). Greatness is what we’re chasing. It doesn’t happen overnight.”

Sacred Heart 70, Spring Garden 38
Riley Austin 3 4-6 11, Dakota Myers 0 0-2 0, Ben Ivey 2 1-2 5, Dylan Rogers 5 0-0 10, Dalton Rogers 1 2-5 4, Draven Bowman 0 0-0 0, Joe Rogers 3 1-3 8. Totals 14 8-16 38.

SACRED HEART – Jaylin Croft 0 0-0 0, Diante Wood 8 3-4 19, Murdock Simmons 2 0-1 4, D.J. Heath 6 3-4 18, Dakota Myers 1 1-3 3, Kevion Nolan 8 6-6 24, Khalil Watkins 1 0-0 2. Totals 26 13-18 70.

Spring Garden 10 11 13 4 — 38
Sacred Heart 18 22 20 10 — 70

3-point goals: Spring Garden 2 (Austin, Rogers); Sacred Heart 5 (Heath 3, Nolan 2). Fouled out: Wood. Total fouls: Spring Garden 15, Sacred Heart 19. Officials: Teel, Harvey, Dupree.

Sacred Heart guard D.J. Heath was named tournament MVP after leading the Cardinals to another area championship. (Photo by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

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