E.A. Sports Today

Band on the run

Sacred Heart uses three big runs to take down Decatur Heritage for another Northeast Regional title

Tournament MVP Diante Wood throws down a power slam late in the second quarter. On the cover, Sacred Heart coach Ralph Graves talks strategy during a time out. (Photos by Greg Warren)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE — If you watch the Sacred Heart juggernaut long enough you know at some point in the game – multiple points in the game, really – the big run is coming. All you have to do is wait for it.

The Cardinals broke off three big runs Wednesday in their 75-49 rout of Decatur Heritage for another Class 1A Northeast Regional championship that sends them to the Final Four for the fourth consecutive year. They will play Georgiana in the state semifinals Monday at 1:30 in the BJCC.

They had an 11-0 run to break out of a slow-going first quarter and a 16-2 run in the fourth quarter, but the real game-breaker was a 20-0 spree that was classic Sacred Heart after the Eagles (23-9) scored the first basket of the second half.

“It was no different from the way we do anything else,” Cardinals coach Ralph Graves said. “I think what happened was everybody expects us to go up by 100 in the first quarter and everybody on the outside discredits what Decatur Heritage could do.

“We went on that big-time run after they made the first basket of the half and I don’t think the ball crossed half-court for like four minutes. That’s some defensive pressure right there by our guys.

“And I think it all sparked off with Murdock (Simmons) hitting that 3 in the corner. He had a deflection, a steal, a kick-out, layup after layup. I think those guys answered the call.”

For his part, Simmons was just responding after believing he played “horrible” in the first half, a notion Graves reinforced at halftime. He did get the 20-0 run started with a 3-pointer 30 seconds into the third quarter and the Cardinals (27-8) proceeded to force seven straight turnovers among the next nine possessions and score at will until Eagles’ forward Noah Boler deposited a layup with 4:25 left in the quarter.

The Cardinals scored on nine of their 10 possession in the three-minute run; Simmons had the first two baskets and the last two for nine of his 11 points.

“I didn’t play to my potential (the first half),” Simmons said. “(Graves) told me I wasn’t giving him anything, so I had to come out and play better than I did in the first half.”

The only possession the Cardinals didn’t convert in the flurry, they had three shots at it.

“The momentum, it just shifts,” senior guard Kevion Nolan, explaining the anatomy of the run. “Once you get your first bucket and we hop in the press and we get a turnover and then it’s like they’re not scoring but we’re scoring and it keeps going and going and going. When they call timeout they know they have to regroup and that’s when we know the run has been set.”

Diante Wood was named the regional MVP. He was joined on the all-tournament team by Sacred Heart teammates Nolan and Simmons, whose contribution is often overshadowed by the Cardinals’ Big Three of Wood, Nolan and D.J. Heath.

Wood had 21 points, five rebounds and five steals in the game. Nolan had 19 points fueled by 5-of-8 shooting from 3-point range, seven rebounds and nine steals. Heath had 11 points and seven assists.

“The only people who get the pub are the people who score the points,” Graves said. “You look at this stat sheet, a lot of things Murdock does don’t go recognized. Not to discredit him — he has talent also — but he fills in one of those ‘glue guy’ roles that’s really important for our team and really important for our success.

“You can’t say enough about what Murdock does. Everybody wants to see the 3s and everybody wants to see the dunks, but who’s handling the pressure, who’s diving on the floor, who’s boxing out, who’s making plays for the next man, who’s motivating each other, who’s bringing enthusiasm, who’s bringing the energy, and Murdock does those things well. … Just to see how he played in the third quarter I’m proud of him.”

The win was Sacred Heart’s 44th in a row over in-state Class 1A opponents. Its last such loss was in the 2014 state semifinals against St. Jude, a game Graves recalled “what St. Jude did to us is what we’re doing to everybody right now.”

“I’ll never forget that time in the interview and our kids came out and said we’ll be back and we’ll be ready,” Graves said. “We didn’t know he was talking about the next three years and now here we are again headed back to the Final Four.”

Decatur Heritage’s Jackson Kyle drives around Murdock Simmons (4) heading towards Noah Boler’s screen on Dakota Myers (11). (Photo by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

Sacred Heart 75, Decatur Heritage 49
Diante Wood 7-11 7-10 21, Murdock Simmons 5-6 0-1 11, D.J. Heath 5-16 0-0 11, Dakota Myers 3-7 3-5 9, Kevion Nolan 7-13 0-0 19, Jaylin Croft 0-3 0-0 0, Jack Miller 0-0 0-0 0, Stephen Stansil 0-2 2-4 4, JonRiley Miller 0-1 0-0 0, Khalil Watkins 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 28-61 12-20 75.

DECATUR HERITAGE (23-9) – Jackson Kyle 0-0 0-0 0, Walker Jones 5-10 0-0 13, Clay Shaw 3-4 2-2 10, Derrick Bishop 4-6 2-2 10, Noah Boler 5-12 2-4 12, Carson Solley 0-1 0-0 0, Shawn Metzgar 2-4 0-0 4, Heath Bolton 0-1 0-0 0, Patrick Benefield 0-2 0-0 0, Will Jones 0-0 0-0 0, Jacob McCamon 0-0 0-0 0, Grayson Wakefield 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-40 6-8 49.

Sacred Heart 12 16 27 20 — 75
Decatur Heritage 12 11 8 18 — 49

3-point goals: Sacred Heart 7-27 (Wood 0-2, Simmons 1-1, Heath 1-9, Myers 0-1, Nolan 5-8, Croft 0-3, Stansil 0-2, Watkins 0-1); Decatur Heritage 5-17 (Jones 3-8, Shaw 2-3, Boler 0-4, Benefield 0-2). Rebounds: Sacred Heart 29 (Nolan 7); Decatur Heritage 31 (Boler 10). Assists: Sacred Heart 15 (Heath 7); Decatur Heritage 11 (Kyle 4). Fouled out: Kyle. Total fouls: Sacred Heart 9, Decatur Heritage 14. Officials: Marius Dockery, Kyle Chambers, Jeff Paige.

Kevion Nolan went 5-for-8 behind the 3-point arc for Sacred Heart. (Photo by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

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