E.A. Sports Today

On the verge

Sacred Heart on verge of three-peat, Cardinals reach Class 1A finals again

D.J. Heath (5) scored Sacred Heart’s first 16 points of the second half and finished with 27. On the cover, Diante Wood slams one of the dunks that got the Cardinals going in the first half. (All photos by Greg Warren)

Monday’s Results
South Lamar 80, Cornerstone 67
Sacred Heart 82, Georgiana 55
R.C. Hatch 51, Sheffield 27
Lanett 64, Barbour County 48

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

BIRMINGHAM — Sacred Heart is on the verge of capturing the greatness it has been chasing all season, but the Cardinals haven’t gotten where they are today by looking ahead.

So you’ll have to excuse coach Ralph Graves and the rest of the Cardinals if they haven’t given any thought yet to the possibility of being the first Class 1A team in the modern era of the AHSAA to win three state championships in a row.

Of course, they still have to pull it off. But they have the chance after beating Georgiana Monday 82-55 in the Class 1A state semifinals at the BJCC.

The Cardinals (27-8) will play South Lamar (21-8) for their third straight title Thursday at 5:45 p.m.

The only Class A team to win three straight state titles was Austinville in 1957 to 1959, when there were only two classifications in the game. In the modern era (post-1964), Wenonah (5A), Madison Academy (3A), R.C. Hatch (2A) and Francis Marion (2A) have done it. In the pre-war era when there was only one class, Geraldine (1931-33) and Simpson (Birmingham) (1923-25) won three straight.

J.O. Johnson/Mae Jemison (5A) and Madison Academy (4A) also have chances for a three-peat this year.

“We really don’t care about that,” Graves said. “Those are things you look back on. Right now that’s not the focus. We have a lifetime to reflect on those type things. The focus right now is to come out here to prepare tomorrow and Wednesday and get ready to play this game on Thursday.

“You can’t count your chickens before they hatch. Let us take care of our business, let us prepare the way we want to prepare and we’ll come out here Thursday and we’ll try to give everything we’ve got to try to win another championship, and then after that we can talk about that. We’ll just line it up Thursday and see can we can win it again. If we win it again you can ask those questions and if we lose it you don’t.”

It wouldn’t be unreasonable to think they could pull it off. They’ve won their last 45 games against in-state Class 1A teams by an average of more than 35 points and haven’t lost to an in-state 1A since the 2014 state semifinals.

The Cardinals struggled with their shot early in this rematch of last year’s state title game – starting 1-for-13 from the floor — but their typically intense defense kept them in it until D.J. Heath heated up in the second half. The Cardinals forced the Panthers (27-3) into 21 turnovers in the game (14 by steals), off which they scored 30 points.

“You have to play both sides of the ball,” Graves said. “Some nights the shots may not be falling, but on nights like that your defense can’t afford to fall. Your defense has to be where it needs to be every night.”

Heath was only 3-of-13 from the floor in the first half, but he scored the Cardinals’ first 16 points of the third quarter as they pushed the lead to 15 and eventually 20. He was 7-of-12 from the field in the second half and finished with a game-high 27 points.

“In the third quarter D.J. turned it to another level and our opponents couldn’t turn it to that level,” Graves said.

“At the beginning of the game I was just hyped to play, I wasn’t making shots, I was thinking too much,” Heath said. “I just had to suck it up and go out there make shots in the second half. We’re chasing greatness; anything that’s worth having you’ve gotta work for it. I just knew I had to go out there and help my team win. We’re just trying to compete for this third title.”

Diante Wood got the Cardinals on track with a dunk that gave them the lead for good and later in the half Kevion Nolan hit three straight 3s to turn back the Panthers’ last real threat. Wood had 15 points and 10 rebounds, Nolan had 15 points and newcomer Dakota Myers had 20 points.

Knowing their time together is quickly coming to a close Graves said with a tear trickling down his cheek without Wood, Nolan and Heath “I don’t have a career.”

And the Cardinals wouldn’t be one the verge of winning a third straight state championship.

“This is greatness we’re chasing,” Heath said. “I don’t even realize it yet, but I see something, I’ve got to embrace it. I just thank God I’m in this position, because a lot of players don’t get one ring and I could possibly leave high school with three and that’s just overwhelming.”

Sacred Heart 82, Georgiana 55
GEORGIANA (27-3) –
Nizaiah Smith 7-16 6-7 2-, JaMichael Stallworth 3-12 5-5 12, Clarence Curry 1-3 0-0 2, Keinderus Mobley 2-6 4-6 8, DeAarion Squaire 3-8 0-0 6, Torey Rudolph 3-3 0-0 6, Cameron Longmire 0-0 1-2 1, Dalvin Dix 0-0 0-0 0, Lecedric Haynes 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-48 16-20 55.

SACRED HEART (27-8) – Diante Wood 7-17 1-1 15, Murdock Simmons 2-8 0-0 4, D.J. Heath 10-25 4-6 27, Dakota Myers 8-11 3-3 20, Kevion Nolan 5-9 2-3 15, Jack Dodson 0-1 0-0 0, Stephen Stansil 0-0 0-0 0, Khalil Watkins 0-0 1-2 1. Totals 32-71 11-15 82.

Georgiana 11 18 11 15 — 55
Sacred Heart 15 21 28 18 — 82

3-point goals: Georgiana 1-13 (Smith 0-4, Stallworth 1-7, Squaire 0-2); Sacred Heart 7-20 (Wood 0-1, Heath 3-11, Myers 1-2, Nolan 3-5, Dodson 0-1). Rebounds: Georgiana 41 (Smith 11); Sacred Heart 34 (Wood 10, Simmons 6, Myers 6). Assists: Georgiana 6 (Squaire 3); Sacred Heart 13 (Wood 5, Heath 4). Total fouls: Georgiana 12, Sacred Heart 17. Officials: Dixon, Gary, Burks.

Dakota Myers (11) battles Georgiana’s Clarence Curry for a rebound. Myers had 20 points and six rebounds for the Cardinals.

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