E.A. Sports Today

Cardinals three-peat

Sacred Heart wins its third straight Class 1A state basketball title, pouring it on South Lamar in the second half

Murdock Simmons lets everyone know Sacred Heart has won three state championships in a row. On the cover, the Cardinals’ bench erupts in celebration when the final horn sounded on their win over South Lamar. (Photos by Greg Warren)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

BIRMINGHAM – Sacred Heart won its third straight Class 1A basketball title Thursday night in an 82-59 win over South Lamar at the BJCC.

Did you really expect anything less?

The Cardinals didn’t.

Sacred Heart joined a rare group of teams in Alabama basketball history – certainly in Class 1A history – with its third straight title. The Cardinals have played in the Final Four four years in a row.

They are the first Class 1A team in the modern era of the AHSAA (post-1964) to win three straight. Austinville (which later became Austin High in Decatur) won three in a row in the late ‘50s when there were only two classifications.

During the three-year title run they have beaten 46 straight in-state Class 1A opponents by an average of more than 35 points. Their last loss to a 1A opponent came to St. Jude in the 2014 state semifinals.

“I will say this, and it’s not to be arrogant or anything, but I think we kind of expected to win three; that’s just being honest,” Sacred Heart coach Ralph Graves said. “If you knew how hard we worked as a team. You look at what we do in the preseason, during the summer, and our schedule and the weight room and things like that, most people in our state and who play in our association (would say) 1As don’t do that.

“But we do what we do. We pick up in preseason and they’re grinding, they’re out there in the sun in the summer. We’re going to the camps, we’re playing against the biggest teams, the best teams. We’re playing Pebble Brook, who was ranked No. 13 in the country. That’s what you’re sixth-smallest school in the state is going to play where we have 7As in our state who won’t even step outside the state to play them.

“So when we come out here and we play, yeah, we expect to win championships. That’s what we do because we feel that we’re prepared.”

In the modern era only four other teams have won three in a row – Wenonah (5A), Madison Academy (3A), R.C. Hatch (2A) and Francis Marion (2A). Mae Jemison/J.O. Johnson can join that group Saturday.

“That’s the way I wanted to end my high school career, with a championship,” senior guard Kevion Nolan said.

“It seems unreal,” added senior point guard D.J. Heath. “I want to pinch myself.”

“It’s overwhelming,” junior post Diante Wood said.

Wood was named the 1A tournament MVP for the second year in a row. He had 27 points, six rebounds, four assists, four blocks and four steals in the title game against the Stallions, who were looking to end Sacred Heart’s run to cap the 25th anniversary of their only state title. He scored 12 points in the third quarter when the Cardinals extended four-point halftime lead to 61-50 and poured it on in the fourth quarter.

Nolan and Heath also made the all-tournament team. Nolan had nine points, six assists and four steals in the final. Heath had 17 points in the game. Murdock Simmons, who’ll return next year with Wood and Dakota Myers to form the core of the tour for four, had 16 points, seven rebounds and five steals.

“I don’t think (the difference in the second half) was athleticism, I just think our players are good,” Graves said. “They work at it. They’re disciplined. It just didn’t take off in the first quarter. It came through at the end of the third there, we locked down and played defensively, got a few run-outs and the ball ended up in our hands. They had 28 turnovers; we had seven. I would say that was the difference in the game.”

The Cardinals finished the season 29-8. There’s no telling how far past 30 they could have gotten had half their varsity roster, including four starters, not been suspended for what amounted to six games against some highly touted competition for leaving the bench area in a December game with Spring Garden.

“They all mean the same,” Graves said. “They all feel the same because to win your last game, that’s the accomplishment. You can say you won your last game, that means you won the championship. Only one team is going to do that.

“This one right here is no more special than the others; they all feel the same. I’m just proud it’s going back to our school. Our kids worked for this. They executed the game plan and they got rewarded for it.”

Sacred Heart 82, South Lamar 59
SOUTH LAMAR (25-8) –
Alex Carter 1-4 0-0 3, Chase Gore 7-17 4-6 21, Buster Griffin 3-7 0-0 6, Carson Lindsey 7-15 0-1 14, Malik Cox 4-7 0-0 9, Malachi Oglen 0-0 0-0 0, Jarrett Bryant 0-1 0-0 0, Sam Dowdle 0-0 0-0 0, Joelee Shaw 2-4 0-0 4, Xavier Pate 0-0 0-0 0, Austin Stokes 0-2 0-0 0, Austin Keasley 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 25-60 4-7 59.

SACRED HEART (29-8) – Diante Wood 11-17 4-5 27, Murdock Simmons 6-10 3-4 16, DJ Heath 6-16 3-6 17, Dakota Myers 4-9 0-0 8, Kevion Nolan 3-14 3-5 9, Jaylin Croft 1-1 0-0 3, Jack Dodson 0-1 0-0 0, Jack Miller 0-1 0-0 0, Caleb LaFollette 0-1 0-0 0, Layton Cheatwood 0-0 0-0 0, Stephen Stansil 1-1 0-0 2, JonRiley Miller 0-0 0-0 0, Khalil Watkins 0-1 0-0 0, Augustus Marion 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 32-72 13-20 82.

South Lamar 9 19 22 9 — 59
Sacred Heart 18 14 29 21 — 82

3-point goals: South Lamar 5-18 (Carter 1-3, Gore 3-7, Lindsey 0-6, Cox 1-2); Sacred Heart 5-21 (Wood 1-1, Simmons 1-3, Heath 2-7, Myers 0-1, Nolan 0-5, Croft 1-1, Dodson 0-1, J. Miller 0-1, LaFollette 0-1). Rebounds: South Lamar 45 (Cox 10); Sacred Heart 33 (Simmons 7, Myers 7). Assists: South Lamar 15 (Griffin 4); Sacred Heart 18 (Nolan 6). Total fouls: South Lamar 20, Sacred Heart 13. Officials: Mathison, Taylor, Adams.

Diante Wood was the MVP of the Class 1A Final Four for the second year in a row. (Photo by Greg Warren)

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