E.A. Sports Today

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Sacred Heart moves into state 2A finals, plays for unprecedented fifth straight boys title Friday

Caleb Brown had a big first half for Sacred Heart and finished with 22 points. On the cover, Jayden Stone
 drives for two of his 23 points. (Photos by Greg Warren)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

BIRMINGHAM — “We owe them.”

It was one of the last things Sacred Heart coach Ralph Graves said in the aftermath of the Cardinals’ Northeast Regional clinching victory last week when the talk turned to the Cardinals’ state semifinal opponent Calhoun.

Consider the debt paid in full.

It got a little dicey late, but the Cardinals moved into position for an unprecedented fifth state championship Monday when they beat the Tigers 75-65 in the Class 2A semifinals at the BJCC.

Sacred Heart (23-10) will play Coosa Central (22-4) for its first 2A state title Friday at 10:45 a.m. The Cardinals won the last four titles in Class 1A before being bumped up by the AHSAA’s competitive balance rule for private schools. No boys team has ever won five state titles in a row.

The Cardinals had a lot of motivation in this one. The Tigers beat them by six in the Dwight Madison Classic in Montgomery in December ending their 64-game winning streak against like-classification in-state opponents.

That’s what prompted Graves to say they “owed” the Tigers. By halftime Monday it was more like they “owned” them.

“When we played them over Christmas, that was the turning point of our season,” Graves said. “That was the lowest we were; no confidence. We lost five straight (six of seven when the slump was over). Our kids were hungry to get the win today.

“The difference from then to now, we didn’t have an identity over Christmas; we were still searching for it. We weren’t playing our best at that time of the year. Our kids were really down about that loss. I just knew these kids wanted this really bad.”

Their identity now is one of players understanding their role.

The semifinal game was tight early but the Cardinals pulled ahead with the last six points of the first quarter, a run that stretched to 9-0 with Jack Miller’s 3 to open the second.

They completely took control with a 13-2 run moments later and led by 16 at halftime; that’s a 22-5 run put together. The Cardinals shot 57 percent from the floor in the half.

“That was really big for us,” Graves said. “Jack has been in a slump for us all year (but) we know that kid can shoot it. When he came out and took a charge, that kind of locks Jack in and it kind of locks us in. That was huge for us. That was the separation in the game, but Jack did really well there.”

Caleb Brown gave the Cardinals 16 inspired minutes in the first half. He scored 14 points on 6-for-9 shooting and grabbed five rebounds.

Brown finished with 22 points and six boards; he was 9-of-14 from the floor. Jayden Stone has 23 (13 in the second half), five rebounds and four assists. Khalil Watkins had 13 points and Aaron Moore grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds.

“Coach Ralph just told me while we were warming up just to play my game,” Brown said. “And my teammates helped me out while we were on the fast break. I knew that Khalil and Jayden needed some help on the offensive side and just came through for us.”
The Cardinals were so effective early their lead was 21 midway through the third quarter (52-31), but Calhoun rallied and got within six with 3:07 to play.

The Tigers missed two shots that would have gotten them to within three and Watkins converted a three-point play at the other end with 2:33 left that appeared to end the threat.

“I was just playing my role,” Watkins said. “That brought (Calhoun’s) momentum down a lot, all the way.”

The Cardinals may have cut it close, but they remained confident throughout the Tigers’ run at them.

“I wasn’t concerned, really, at all,” Stone said. “We’ve been put in these situations all the time so it was like stay poised. I think were trying to get points on the board instead of maintaining focus on the game itself. I wasn’t really nervous. I was happy the way they pulled it out.”

The Cardinals haven’t lost a postseason game since falling to St. Jude in the 2014 state semifinals. Between Graves and assistant coach Mook Hutchinson, they have been to the finals now eight times as a player or a coach since 2009.

“Hopefully we can come out Friday and it’d be nice to win another one,” Graves said.

Sacred Heart 75, Calhoun 65
CALHOUN (27-8) –
 Dremaricus Hayes 8-19 2-5 18, Jerdarrian Davison 7-18 1-4 17, Tacorian McCall 3-5 0-0 8, Jamichael Boone 4-12 0-0 10, D’Andre McCovery 2-3 0-2 4, Jeremy Morgan 1-2 1-2 3, Jacob Miles 0-1 0-0 0, Jonathan Washington 0-0 0-0 0, Trayvon Brown 0-0 0-0 0, Demareus Cheatham 2-3 0-0 5. Totals 27-63 4-13 65.
SACRED HEART (23-10) – Khalil Watkins 5-10 3-5 13, Allen Marshall 2-3 0-0 4, Caleb Brown 9-14 4-4 22, Jayden Stone 8-21 4-4 23, Cade Landers 1-4 0-0 2, Spencer Wigley 0-1 0-0 0, Jack Miller 1-3 0-0 3, Taishun Hall 0-0 0-0 0, Aaron Moore 3-3 2-4 8.
Calhoun    16  13  19  17  –  65
Sacred Heart  18  27  13  17  –  75
3-point goals: Calhoun 7-19 (Hayes 0-2, Davison 2-6, McCall 2-4, Boone 2-5, Cheatham 1-2); Sacred Heart 4-15 (Watkins 0-1, Stone 3-10, Landers 0-1, Wigley 0-1, Miller 1-2). Rebounds: Calhoun 39 (Davison 10, Boone 8); Sacred Heart 34 (Moore 10, Brown 6). Fouled out: Hayes. Total fouls: Calhoun 17, Sacred Heart 12. Officials: Desmond Oden, Ronald Adams, Seth Satterfield.

Coosa Central 68, Tanner 58
COOSA (22-4) – Omar Gaddis 1-7 8-8 10, Jovon Richardson 5-14 8-9 18, Quinstavious Brookes 1-3 1-2 3, Joshua McGhee 7-14 1-2 17, Noel Jones 6-17 6-7 20, Corjavion Marbury 0-2 0-0 0, Casson Robbins 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 20-58 24-28 68.
TANNER (27-7) – Jireh Jackson 1-7 1-5 4, James Atkins 4-12 3-4 11, Brandon Lucas 2-6 0-0 5, Jaquan Thompson 4-13 0-1 8, Macarius Jones 3-11 3-6 9, DaShaun McNabb 1-2 0-0 2, Nathan Montgomery 6-10 2-5 19. Totals 21-61 9-21 58.
Coosa     13            20            19            16            –                58            
Tanner   6               13            16            23            –                58
3-point goals: Coosa 4-13 (Gaddis 0-2, Richardson 0-2, McGhee 2-2, Jones 2-6, Robbins 0-1); Tanner 7-19 (Jackson 1-4, Lucas 1-3, Thompson 0-2, Jones 0-1, McNabb 0-1, Montgomery 5-8). Rebounds: Coosa 34 (McGhee 13, Jones 7); Tanner 52 (Jones 12, Atkins 11). Technical fouls: Jackson. Fouled out: Brookes, McGhee, Montgomery. Total fouls: Coosa 20, Tanner 21.

Sacred Heart’s Khalil Watkins (2) scored a big three-point play in the fourth quarter to turn back Calhoun’s second-half threat. (Photo by Greg Warren)

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