E.A. Sports Today

Cardinals survive

MVP Watkins’ late 3-pointer gives Sacred Heart the lead, then it survives two Spring Garden shots in the final 5 seconds to win area title

Tournament MVP Khalil Watkins (24) hits the 3-pointer that gave Sacred Heart the lead for good against Spring Garden Saturday night. (Photo by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

To view a photo gallery from the game, visit www.bjfranklin.smugmug.com

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

The bottom line is Sacred Heart doesn’t lose to Class 1A teams in the state — no matter how good they are or how close the game is.

That was message Saturday night after the Cardinals edged Spring Garden 50-49 to win the Class 1A Area 10 tournament title at Miller Gym.

Tournament MVP Khalil Watkins’ smooth 3-pointer with 23.8 seconds left gave the Cardinals (18-10) the lead for good, and then they had to survive two good shots by Spring Garden’s Dylan Rogers in the final five seconds before claiming the victory.

It was the closest the Cardinals have come to losing to an in-state 1A team since they became a statewide juggernaut. They haven’t lost to one since the 2014 Final Four, the year before they started their current run of three straight state championships.

Their winning streak against in-state 1A’s is now 56 in a row. It could reach 61 with another state title this year before they get reclassified to 2A as a result of the AHSAA’s new competitive balance mandate for private schools. Next up is Lindsay Lane in Tuesday night’s state sub-regionals.

“It was nerve-wracking because we never got this close with a 1A team ever,” Watkins said.

But he never lost confidence. The Cardinals had history on their side.

“We don’t lose to 1A teams,” Watkins said. “I knew we were going to win the whole time.”

The game was close throughout. Spring Garden’s plan to stick close to the Cardinals’ biggest threats, its ability to control the clock and early foul trouble that prevented Sacred Heart from getting into an early rhythm all gave the Panthers (24-5) a chance to win.

Sacred Heart did hold a seven-point lead early in the third quarter, but Spring Garden brought it back and Rogers tied the game at 47 with two free throws in the fourth quarter. It stayed that way until Riley Austin’s one-and-one with 46.7 seconds to play gave Spring Garden the lead and the Spring Garden fans in the house were starting to sense an upset.

Watkins was the Sacred Heart player the Panthers allowed to go free as they worked to keep the ball away from Alabama signee Diante Wood but as is sometimes the case with such plans he made them pay. Watkins hit three 3-pointers in the second half and finished with 15 points.

“I thought we were playing the cards right by making 24 (Watkins) shoot it instead of drive, but he just stepped up and did what a good player is supposed to do,” Spring Garden coach Ricky Austin said. “They found the one guy we were laying off of and, man, he made us pay, so you’ve just got to give him all the credit.”

Spring Garden got the ball in the hands of the player they wanted on both their final looks, it just couldn’t get the shot to fall.

Rogers missed a reverse layup from under the basket with 3.4 seconds left. After Watkins missed a free throw at the other end and Spring Garden called time to set up the final play called “touchdown,” Rogers took a nice baseball pass from Weston Kirk and drove to the basket only to have his shot hit the side of the backboard as the horn sounded.

“I usually hit those shots, I guess I was just nervous and ended up throwing the ball up a little too hard and missed it,” Rogers said. “I feel pretty bad. He trusted me with the ball in the last second. He said he’d give me any other time 30 seconds from now, so I guess he still has trust in me.”

“We had two chances two win the game in less than three seconds; how many teams can do that against a good team like Sacred Heart?” Ricky Austin said. “That was a great chance for us.”

CLASS 1A AREA 10 BOYS

Sacred Heart 50, Spring Garden 49
SPRING GARDEN (24-5) –
Riley Austin 4-12 2-3 11, Dalton Rogers 1-4 1-2 3, Dylan Rogers 4-9 2-2 11, Isaiah Sanchez 7-8 2-2 16, Luke Welsh 0 1-2 1, Draven Bowman 0 -2 0-0 0, Weston Kirk 2-4 0-1 5, Totals 19-39 8-12 49.

SACRED HEART (18-10) – Quin Riggins 4 2-2 12, Diante Wood 3 4-6 10, Victor Wilson 2 1-1 5, Caleb Brown 1 0-0 2, Josh Brown 0 0-0 0, Stephen Stansil 0 0-0 0, Khalil Watkins 6 0-1 15, Murdock Simmons 2 1-1 6. Totals 18 8-11 50.

Spring Garden 15 9 19 6 — 49
Sacred Heart 19 10 16 5 — 50

3-point goals: Spring Garden 3 (Austin, Dy. Rogers, Kirk); Sacred Heart 6 (Riggins, Watkins 3, Simmons). Fouled out: Da. Rogers. Total fouls: Spring Garden 13, Sacred Heart 20. Officials: Holmes, Rieger, Stringer.

It wasn’t this shot, but Dylan Rogers (5) had two shots in the final five seconds that could’ve changed the outcome of the game. (Photo by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

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