E.A. Sports Today

Cards slam grand

Sacred Heart needs overtime, but takes down Georgiana to win its fourth straight Class 1A state title; Riggins stars in OT, Wood MVP again

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

BIRMINGHAM – Rings are meant to go on fingers, not thumbs, and now Sacred Heart has one for every one on whichever hand the players choose to display them.

The Cardinals won their fourth straight Class 1A state title Thursday, closing the most storied era in Calhoun County basketball history, when they beat Georgiana in overtime 65-56 at the most appropriately named Legacy Arena of the BJCC.

They are the first team since Francis Marion from 1988 through 1991 to win four straight state titles and the first to do it in the same classification.

This is a run that started when tournament MVP Diante Wood was just a seventh grader and D.J. Heath and Kevion Nolan were eighth graders. Here’s the legacy: Four straight state titles, five straight Final Four appearances, 61 straight wins against instate Class 1A competition, three Division I signees. The Cardinals have not lost in 2018.

“You just can’t say enough about their perseverance and their character for the team,” Sacred Heart coach Ralph Graves said. “Four years doesn’t happen. One year doesn’t even happen most of the time.

“I’m just happy for our school and our kids because they want to win so bad; you can see it on their faces. When you open that book it’s going to be there; you can’t take it away. When it goes down in history, it’s going to say ‘Sacred Heart, four years’ there and I’m proud to be just a part of it.”

“This is history right here; winning four straight, this isn’t going nowhere,” added Wood. “When we grow up, have family, have kids, married and everything, when we look back the four trophies are still going to be there. This is history.”

The Cardinals (23-10) won their latest title the same way they won their first – in overtime. They had a chance to win it in regulation, but Wood missed a chance for his high school career to end in storybook fashion when his turnaround jumper from the top of the key rimmed out at the buzzer, leaving the game tied at 55. The Alabama signee thought he could have taken a better shot, but the limited time on the clock left him limited options.

Quin Riggins took advantage of a game-long mismatch to score nine of the Cardinals’ 10 points in overtime. He finished with 18 points, six rebounds and three assists.

“Quin had the matchup and, man, he took the game over there,” Graves said. “From a point guard perspective, me being a point guard myself, I couldn’t do what he did. You’ve got to know when to take your chances … but he came down there and you’re talking about getting in the paint at will and finishing. You can’t say enough about his poise, his mental toughness. I’m just proud of the way he played for the team.”

Wood was named MVP for the third year in a row after scoring 22 points and grabbing six rebounds in the title game. Riggins and Murdock Simmons (11 points, 10 rebounds) joined him on the all-tournament team.

Wood averaged 21.6 points and 11.8 rebounds in the eight Final Four games during the Cardinals’ run of titles, 22.7 points and 11.0 rebounds in his three MVP Final Fours, and 23.5 points and 10.0 rebounds in the four title games.

“Diante never shied away from the moment,” Graves said. “Man, it’d have been so great if he hit that shot right there at the end. You’re talking about fade-away over the shoulder; that’s legendary. For our program, what Diante meant to us … kids like this don’t come through that often.”

Wood hit a basket-and-one to give Sacred Heart a 53-52 lead with 1:02 to play. Georgiana senior guard JaMichael Stallworth responded with a 3-pointer and after Victor Wilson hit two free throws with 25 seconds left Stallworth nailed a long 3 with 16.1 seconds left to tie the game at 55.

Stallworth led the Panthers (30-4) with 17 points. Martavius Payton, who battled Wood all game, had 16 points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots.

Riggins, who played much of the second half with four fouls, then took over the overtime.

“To start the second half we saw I had a mismatch so we really wanted to take over that,” Riggins said. “In the first half I wasn’t as aggressive as I was supposed to be in the second half.

“At halftime, Diante, Murdock, Coach Ralph, Coach Mook, Coach Brandon, they told me they were going to need me the second half to come up huge. At the end of regulation they told me I had the mismatch and I had to take over. I wasn’t ready to lose.”

Nor were the Cardinals, who can begin a new legacy next year in Class 2A as part of the AHSAA’s competitive balance formula for private schools. The Cardinals are expected to arrive back at school to celebrate their latest title with the student body Friday around 1 p.m.

CLASS 1A BOYS CHAMPIONSHIP
Sacred Heart 65, Georgiana 56 (OT)
GEORGIANA (30-4) –
Jaheim Powell 0-2 0-0 0, Christian Williams 4-9 3-4 13, JaMichael Stallworth 5-13 4-6 17, Lecedric Haynes 0-0 0-0 0, Dalvin Dix 2-5 0-0 6, Christopher Mixon 1-1 0-0 2, Jamarcus Sims 1-4 0-0 2, Martavius Payton 8-14 0-1 16. Totals 21-48 7-11 56.

SACRED HEART (23-10) – Quin Riggins 6-8 5-10 18, Diante Wood 7-12 6-8 22, Victor Wilson 2-4 2-2 8, Murdock Simmons 5-15 1-2 11, Caleb Brown 0-0 0-0 0, Stephen Stansil 0-0 0-0 0, Khalil Watkins 2-6 0-0 6. Totals 22-45 14-22 65.

Georgiana 12 19 10 14 1 — 56
Sacred Heart 18 12 13 12 10 — 65

3-point goals: Georgiana 7-19 (Powell 0-1, Williams 2-6, Stallworth 3-9, Dix 2-3); Sacred Heart 7-18 (Riggins 1-2, Wood 2-3, Wilson 2-4, Simmons 0-5, Watkins 2-4). Rebounds: Georgiana 32 (Payton 7, Dix 6); Sacred Heart 27 (Simmons 10, Riggins 6, Wood 6). Fouled out: Simmons. Total fouls: Georgiana 20, Sacred Heart 13. Officials: Karl Burns, Alan Cosby, Marvin Wesley.

All-tournament team: Diante Wood, Sacred Heart (MVP); Murdock Simmons, Sacred Heart; Christian Williams, Georgiana; JaMichael Stallworth, Georgiana; Quin Riggins, Sacred Heart; Martavius Payton, Georgiana.

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