E.A. Sports Today

Flying into another final

Wood leads the way as Sacred Heart reaches Class 1A finals for fourth year in a row by taking out Cornerstone

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

BIRMINGHAM — Sacred Heart moved into position to win a fourth straight state championship — against a familiar opponent — after beating Cornerstone 76-60 Monday in the Class 1A Final Four at the BJCC.

The Cardinals (21-10) will face Georgiana (30-3) at 5:45 p.m. Thursday for the title. The teams will be meeting for the third straight year here; they played in the finals two years ago.

Only Francis Marion has won four straight state titles in the modern era, taking Class 2A crowns in 1988, 1889 and 1990 and the 3A title in 1991.

“If we were to win it Thursday, I can’t say enough about our school and our program and the work ethic and perseverance of our children,” Cardinals coach Ralph Graves said. “If we were to do that, that puts you in an elite class.

“We’ll worry about that once it’s over with. Those are things you look back at years from now, but right now we have to go back and prepare. Nothing would make us more proud than to win it again. That would really make our community proud.”

Diante Wood had another big game on the big stage for Sacred Heart. The Alabama signee, a two-time MVP here, went for 25 points and 19 rebounds and another big game in his final high school game could solidify his spot as Mr. Basketball.

In the Cardinals’ current seven-game Final Four winning streak, Wood is averaging 21.6 points and 12.6 rebounds. In the two previous games against Georgiana he has 45 points and 23 rebounds, including a 30/13 game in the 2016 championship game.

“It was just nice to come in and play big for my team so we could advance to the championship,” Wood said. “I just know when we get here it comes down to two games and I know I have to go out there and help my team get the win. We grow up to play on big stages like this, so every time we get here we give it our all.”

Murdock Simmons and Khalil Watkins, the two most light-hearted players on the team off the floor, were beats against the Eagles, scoring 14 and 16 points, respectively. Graves said Watkins took over the third quarter – 10 points, three rebounds, two assists – when the Cardinals scored 27 points to put away their 60th straight win over instate Class 1A competition. Simmons, playing on sore ankles that have plagued him since the County Tournament, also grabbed nine rebounds.

“Him and Khalil are probably the two most silliest ones on the team,” Graves said. “When you get in the hotel room and you start listening to those guys and how they joke around and stuff, you can all be proud of them. And I know those guys really want their dream and their dream is to win it one more time.”

Simmons, once described by East Alabama Sports Today as the Cardinals’ Dennis Rodman-type player without the tats and piercings (or freaky friends in foreign lands), has been as big a cog in the Cardinals’ success this season as Wood.

Like his more decorated teammate, Simmons will be seeking a fourth straight title with the program although all his contributions may not have come on the floor. He sat out his first year as a manager on the Cardinals’ first title team.

“You’ve got to understand how hard that is to sit out a year because you want to be in our program,” Graves said. “He sat out a whole year to be a water boy and a manager and I’m bossing you around all day, and he did that.

“This year he had to take his role to another level where he has to be a scorer, he has to be one of the top leaders on the team. You can’t say enough about that for that kid to step into that role and do it pretty well.”

Wood always knew Simmons would be a force once he got on the floor.

“When he was the water boy we’d scrimmage at practice and he’d be playing good against us, scoring the ball and all,” Wood said. “So I knew from there he was going to grow up and be a good player and he’s showed me he’s a good player.”


Spring Garden 40, Loachapoka 28: Don’t tell Tiyonna Rogers she’s playing scared. She’ll get mad.

That was the message the Spring Garden coaches had for Rogers at halftime Monday and the senior post responded in the way they all hoped.

Rogers had 17 points and 20 rebounds in the game, but she went for 12 and 14 in the second half as the Lady Panthers (31-3) returned to the championship game. They will play Phillips (29-3) at 4 p.m. Thursday for the title that eluded them at the last second a year ago.

“Coach Damon (McDonald) and Coach Rat (Austin) came in and said, ‘You’re scared,’” Rogers said. “I had to come out in the second half to get better and that’s what I did. That’s what they did, they scared the mess out of me.

“Coach Rat said it plenty of times this year that you look scared. I had to come out and do my thing like always in the second half if I’m not doing good in the first half.”

It was a forgettable game, one won with defense and rebounding. Even Spring Garden coach Ricky Austin had to admit it wasn’t a “clean, pretty game,” but, then, he said, the Lady Panthers didn’t remember much about last year’s semifinal game, either.

Macy Reedy kept the Lady Panthers in it until they could find their stride with three 3-pointers in the first half.

“That was big,” Austin said. “She’s been shooting really well all week. Went through a little slump right before the area tournament and she has just been relentless in the gym getting up more shots even on her own time. I told the shooters it was set up for them to come out and I thought Macy did an excellent job of giving us some space and confidence.”

“I was kind of nervous coming into this game, but I had to remember we’ve been here before so it was kind of easy to get back on the court,” Reedy said.

The last time the Lady Panthers were on this floor, it didn’t go well. They lost in the state title game on a crazy last-second exchange that has been the driving force to their run this season.

“The emotions are high; they’re a little indescribable,” junior forward Payton McGinnis said. “The way it ended last year, that’s something you’ll think about every day in practice. Even when you’re not in basketball season it’s going through your mind how we felt in the locker room last year.

“Last year we were sitting in this same spot, but we were on the other side – the losing team in that game. We were all sitting in here and we looked at each other when we got back to the locker room and said we will be back. Every day at practice we stand by that word. It’s like coach always told us you’ve got to have a chip on your shoulders and I feel like the coaches, the players, even the fans, have that chip on their shoulders and we’re going to hope to come out on top this year.”

Sacred Heart 76, Cornerstone 60
SACRED HEART (21-10) –
Quin Riggins 3-7 1-2 7, Diante Wood 11-24 3-3 25, Victor Wilson 3-9 0-0 9, Murdock Simmons 5-9 4-8 14, Khalil Watkins 8-12 0-0 16, Jack Miller 0-0 0-0 0, Caleb Brown 1-3 2-2 5, Stephen Stansil 0-0 0-0 0, JonRiley Miller 0-1 0-0 0, KD Harris 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 31-66 10-15 76.

CORNERSTONE (24-7) – Eriq Williams 3-9 3-4 12, John Stanford 5-13 2-4 14, Kelvin Seals 3-10 2-3 9, Kelton Wilson 4-9 0-0 10, Caleb Moore 0-4 0-0 0, Kobe Bozeman 2-2 2-2 6, Brian Poytress 0-0 0-0 0, Rhyan Burks 1-2 0-0 3, Melvin Jones 0-0 0-0 0, Samuel Williams 0-0 0-0 0, Dakai Tatum-Lee 2-4 0-0 4, Preston London 0-0 0-0 0, Kennedy Leatherwood 1-2 0-1 2. Totals 21-55 9-14 60.

Sacred Heart 18 13 27 18 — 76
Cornerstone 7 11 13 29 — 60

3-point goals: Sacred Heart 4-17 (Riggins 0-1, Wood 0-2, Wilson 3-8, Simmons 0-1, Watkins 0-2, Brown 1-1, JR Miller 0-1, Harris 0-1); Cornerstone 9-22 (E. Williams 3-5, Stanford 2-5, Seals 1-3, Wilson 2-7, Burks 1-2). Rebounds: Sacred Heart 49 (Wood 19, Simmons 9, Riggins 8); Cornerstone 28 (Stanford 7). Total fouls: Sacred Heart 12, Cornerstone 13. Officials: Darrell Hargreaves, Reginald Franklin, Nick Madsden.

Georgiana 80, R.A. Hubbard 58
R.A. HUBBARD (27-7) –
Malik Bynum 1-9 0-0 2, Riely Evans 6-11 1-5 13, Russell Orr 1-5 2-4 5, Tyson Garth 3-7 0-1 8, Montoya Kellogg 5-10 0-0 10, Kaleb Johnson 0-0 0-0 0, Labrunte Davenport 0-3 0-0 0, Jamel Robinson 2-4 0-0 4, Keyondrick Cobb 0-1 0-0 0, Bret Mason 1-4 0-0 3, Domiryck Steward 0-0 0-0 0, Jaivian McGahee 4-13 3-5 11, Tyrus Johnson 0-0 0-0 0, CaNi McCoy 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 24-69 6-15 58.

GEORGIANA (30-3) – Jaheim Powell 3-6 0-2 6, JaMichael Stallworth 9-14 1-5 22, Lecedric Haynes 5-8 3-4 13, Jamarcus Sims 3-5 0-0 6, Martavius Payton 6-10 2-2 14, Christian Williams 5-8 1-1 12, Dalvin Dix 0-2 0-0 0, Christopher Mixon 3-6 1-1 7, Decorae Peterson 0-0 0-0 0, Azenda Pennington 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 34-61 8-15 80.

R.A. Hubbard 7 13 20 18 — 58
Georgiana 24 17 22 17 — 80

3-point goals: R.A. Hubbard 4-15 (Evans 0-2, Orr 1-3, Garth 2-2, Kellogg 0-2, Davenport 0-2, Cobb 0-1, Mason 1-3); Georgiana 4-14 (Powell 0-1, Stallworth 3-6 Williams 1-3, Dix 0-2, Pennington 0-2). Rebounds: R.A. Hubbard 34 (McGahee 7); Georgiana 45 (Payton 11, Sims 10, Mixon 7). Fouled out: McGahee. Total fouls: R.A. Hubbard 17, Georgiana 15. Notes: Georgiana jumped out to a 22-3 lead in the first quarter.

Spring Garden 40, Loachapoka 28
AJ Broome 0-2 1-3 1, Macy Reedy 3-7 2-2 11, Kerstin Bryant 0-3 0-0 0, Payton McGinnis 2-14 4-4 8, Tiyonna Rogers 6-15 5-5 17, Neely Welsh 1-4 0-0 3, Chloe Jarrett 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 12-45 12-14 40.

LOACHAPOKA (22-5) – Colby Box 5-12 0-0 14, Kaitlin Hill 4-22 3-4 12, Diamond Grady 1-8 0-0 2, Trejiunna Brown 0-2 0-0 0, Tytiana Clemons 0-2 0-0 0, Miasya Torbert 0-2 0-0 0, AyDashia Hutchinson 0-3 0-0 0, Takaya Dupree 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 10-51 3-4 28.

Spring Garden 9 10 12 9 — 40
Loachapoka 3 11 9 5 — 28

3-point goals: Spring Garden 4-20 (Broome 0-1, Reedy 3-7, Bryant 0-1, McGinnis 0-7, Welsh 1-4); Loachapoka 5-23 (Cox 4-10, Hill 1-7, Grady 0-5, Hutchinson 0-1). Rebounds: Spring Garden 46 (Rogers 20); Loachapoka 30 (Hutchinson 8). Total fouls: Spring Garden 6, Loachapoka 17.

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