E.A. Sports Today

New foes, same goals

Moving up in classification doesn’t change the approach or results, Sacred Heart wins another area title

Sacred Heart’s Jayden Stone (22) challenges Westbrook Christian’s Jackson Luttrell during first-half play in Saturday’s Class 2A Area 11 tournament final. On the cover, Khalil Watkins (2) was the tournament MVP for the second year in a row, while Caleb Brown (10) made the all-tournament team. (Photos by B.J. Franklin)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

The landscape may have changed for the Sacred Heart basketball team this year, but the goal and the approach most certainly have not.

Whether it’s 1A, 2A or the NBA, the mindset of the Cardinals has always been to dominate the opposition and reach for the highest prize attainable.

Sacred Heart’s Aaron Moore (15) stretches for a rebound. (Photo by B.J. Franklin)

After dominating Class 1A the last four years, the Cardinals now are making their way against a new collection of teams in 2A, the victim of their own success, and for the time being it’s that state championship blue trophy they pursue.

They crossed the first speed bump on that road Saturday night, beating Westbrook Christian 61-42 for another area title, this time in 2A Area 11.

The Cardinals (18-10) will now host Area 9 runner-up Ranburne (15-12) in Tuesday’s sub-regional round with a berth in the Northeast Regional at Jacksonville State in the balance. Westbrook (17-14), meanwhile, will travel to Area 9 champion LaFayette (26-4) in hopes of keeping its season alive.
“We have the same mindset, dominate like we did in 1A in 2A,” Cardinals guard Caleb Brown said. “We have to go 7-0. Keep on grinding at practice and just do what Coach Ralph (Graves) tells us to do and we’ll come out on top.”
“It’s the same goal, you don’t change who you are,” Graves said. “It doesn’t matter what class is there, it takes the same exact thing; it takes hard work, teamwork, discipline and togetherness. You can be a 2A, 6A, 7A, I guarantee all the teams that are winning, the coaches and programs are preaching the same thing.”
Sacred Heart forward Khalil Watkins was named tournament MVP for the second year in a row. He had a monster performance in the Cardinals’ opening-round rout of Gaston – 30 points, 12 rebounds, six assists – and although his numbers may not have been worthy Saturday night he held the team together against the Warriors despite early foul trouble.
“I think he played really well,” Graves said. “It’s the same argument they had about the MVP in the County (Tournament). Is it off one game or is it off the whole tournament?”
Sacred Heart’s Jayden Stone was the MVP of the county tournament. He was clearly the best player all week, but his team lost in the championship game to Oxford.

Watkins was particularly aggressive at the front of the press at the start of the second half, without the fouls that handcuffed him in the first. The Cardinals had a 30-25 halftime lead, but they came in the third quarter and created three quick baskets off the press to start a rapid-fire 12-2 run that gave them complete control of the game.
“The first half I was playing too hard and wasn’t playing good, but the second half I picked it up with my defense and we got the win,” Watkins said. “The second half Coach Ralph told me just bring the defense up and the offense would come.”
While Watkins was creating the turnovers, Caleb Brown was finishing them off. Brown scored the first baskets of each half and the first two baskets of the third quarter. He finished with 15 points. Stone was the Cardinals’ leading scorer with 18 points.
Brown and Stone joined Watkins on the all-tournament team.
“Caleb played consistent, too,” Graves said. “Running the floor, finishing shots and things like that, so that was really big for Caleb. And our team.”
The Warriors closed the gap to 12 at the end of the third quarter, but the fourth was a show of the Cardinals’ quickness and athleticism and they steadily pulled away.
Sacred Heart 61, Westbrook Christian 42
 Andrew Lockridge 1 2-3 5, Joe Pirani 0 0-0 0, Grant Martin 0 0-0 0, Brandon Foster 0 0-0 0, Joseph Gilcrest 3 2-2 9, Jonah Morris 3 3-4 10, Bryce Wood 0 0-0 0, P.J. Wells 0 3-4 3, Jackson Luttrell 3 0-0 6, Cade Phillips 1 6-8 8, Ryan Scott 1 0-0 2, Christian Morris 0 0-0 0, Caiden Wright Wyatt 0 0-0 0. Totals 12 16-21 42.
SACRED HEART (18-10) –  Spencer Wigley 0 0-0 0, Khalil Watkins 4 1-2 9, Jack Miller 1 1-2 3, Allen Marshall 2 0-0 4, Caleb Brown 7 0-0 15, Javen Croft 0 0-0 0, Anthony Bothwell 0 0-0 0, K.D. Harris 0 0-0 0, Aaron Moore 4 0-0 8, Jayden Stone 7 3-7 18, Cade Landers 2 0-0 4, Devin Barksdale 0 0-0 0, Ray Simmons 0 0-0 0. Totals 27 5-11 61.
Westbrook        12        13        5          12        –          42
Sacred Heart    12        18        12        19        –          61
3-point goals: Westbrook 2 (Gilcrest, Morris); Sacred Heart 2 (Brown, Stone). Technical fouls: Westbrook coach Dickey. Total fouls: Westbrook 16, Sacred Heart 22. Officials: Wood, Walker, Ingram.

Nick Lewis, Gaston
Grayson Alward, Ohatchee
Joseph Gilcrest, Westbrook Christian
Jackson Luttrell, Westbrook Christian
Caleb Brown, Sacred Heart
Jayden Stone, Sacred Heart
Khalil Watkins, Sacred Heart (MVP)

To see a gallery of photos from the game, visit www.bjfranklin.smugmug.com

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