E.A. Sports Today

Making their own way

After six years at the top, Sacred Heart looks to establish another wave of champions; Anniston flies past Shelby County

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

For the last six years, Sacred Heart has been the standard of which all high school basketball teams in this part of the state are measured. The Cardinals have the championship banners draped on the wall of their gym to prove it.
This year, though, they’re in a different sort of position, one more of being a chaser than the hunted. The older players on the roster are relatively young as far as experience and leadership and the younger ones, well, they are simply new to this level of play.
Still, the expectations within the program haven’t changed. It’s still blue or bust.
“Everybody thinks since we lost everybody Sacred Heart’s like done with, but we’ve got a lot to prove this year,” guard Cade Landers said after the Cardinals crushed Gaston 88-27 Tuesday night for their first win of the season. “We’ve been working on it. We’re going to be back in Birmingham.”
The Cardinals have been a fixture in the Final Four, whether it’s been Class 1A or 2A because of the AHSAA’s competitive balance initiative regarding private schools. They’ve played in the Final Four each of the last six years, been in the title game five years in a row and had won four straight championships before falling to Coosa Central by two last year. They haven’t lost to an area opponent since 2013.
Those championship teams were anchored by homegrown Division I talent, dominated all the competition on their level and weren’t afraid to challenge (and even beat) some of the biggest programs in Alabama and Metro Atlanta.
This new group is working to come out of that shadow and make their own way.
“It is a little different,” Cardinals coach Ralph Graves said. “Over the past few years, we weren’t really searching for our identity because we knew who we were, we had already built that through the years. Now that we have a new batch of kids coming in, a new batch of kids who are here and getting an opportunity to play, we’re trying to find their identity, which is not the last batch’s identity. I want them to be who they are.
“I won’t say we’re in an underdog role, but we’re not being chased as much, so we’ll do the chasing. It’s going to take time for us to find our identity for this year, but one thing is they play hard, they play together and they do what you ask them to do. We’ll just keep putting it together between the lines and in practice and during film trying to get better each day and hopefully the leaders will emerge, which I think they will. How well they play and how well they jell will be part of the process.”
Landers and post Aaron Moore, two of the team’s four seniors, were the leaders Tuesday night. Landers helped the Cardinals take control of the game early with four steals and eight points in the first quarter. He finished with 14 points, five steals and five assists. Moore dominated the post with 24 points – 12 in the first quarter – and 12 rebounds.

The Cardinals (1-1) led 30-6 after the first quarter and 56-16 at halftime. Landers and Moore combined for 16 points in the third quarter as the lead swelled to 78-23.
“Our roles have changed,” Moore said. “We have to take more shots and we’ve got to lead our team to another championship. We like being the underdog. We don’t feel any pressure about it, we just have to go out there and prove ourselves that we are the champs and that’s what we’re going to do this year.”
Taishun Hall (14) and freshman Jerek Burroughs (10) also scored in double figures for the Cardinals. Senior Allen Marshall had seven points and eight rebounds. Senior Jack Miller hit a pair of 3-pointers and had eight points.
Anniston 66, Shelby County 45
Anniston coach Torry Brown returned to his old stomping grounds and helped his former team open its season. Brown coached the Wildcats for five seasons before joining the Bulldogs to succeed legendary Schuessler Ware.
“It was good to see everyone,” Brown said.
It was a happy homecoming as the Bulldogs (2-0) jumped out 16-5 in the first quarter and stayed ahead. Antonio Kite led three scorers in double figures with 19 points, highlighted with five of the Bulldogs’ 11 3-pointers. Malcolm Harvey had 12 and Jordan Ferrell had 11 – all in the fourth quarter.
Sacred Heart 88, Gaston 27
GASTON (0-2) –
Nick Lewis 3 4-7 11, Jeremiah Dupree 0 0-0 0, Rickey Moore 1 0-0 2, Kendall Blackwell 3 1-3 7, Brock Bagley 0 2-6 2, Braylen Granger 0 0-0 0, Brett Scott 0 1-2 1, Brodie Gilbert 1 0-0 3, Jayden Dupree 0 1-2 1, Kendrick Blackwell 0 0-0 0. Totals 8 9-20 27.
SACRED HEART (1-1) – Taishun Hall 5 3-3 14, Jarek Burroughs 4 2-2 10, Jack Miller 2 2-2 8, Allen Marshall 1 5-8 7, Devin Barksdale 1 0-2 3, Javen Croft 1 2-4 4, Anthony Bothwell 2 0-1 4, Aaron Moore 12 0-1 24, Cade Landers 7 0-2 14, Eric Tolson 0 0-0 0. Totals 35 14-25 88.
Gaston                6         10        7          4          –          27
Sacred Heart   30        26        22        10        –          88
3-point goals: Gaston 2 (Lewis, Gilbert); Sacred Heart 4 (Hall, Miller 2, Barksdale). Fouled out: Lewis. Total fouls: Gaston 18, Sacred Heart 19. Officials: Guyton, Stringer, Askew.
Anniston 66, Shelby County 45
ANNISTON (2-0) –
Antonio Kite 6 2-2 19, Mark Toyer 0 2-4 2, Tahj Jones 3 1-1 9, Kwame Milton 3 2-6 9, Malcolm Harvey 6 0-1 12, Jakobe Collins 1 2-2 4, Jordan Ferrell 4 0-0 11. Totals 23 9-16 66.
SHELBY COUNTY (0-1) – Isiah Montgomery 2 0-0 5, Riley Lewter 3 0-0 7, Jordan Morris 2 0-0 4, R.J. Straate 2 0-0 6, Isaac Montgomery 2 1-4 5, Noah Harper 2 0-0 5, Larz Balfanz 5 0-0 10, T.J. McGinnis 1 1-1 3. Totals 19 2-5 45.
Anniston          16        14        18        18        –          66
Shelby County   5        13        15        12        –          45
3-point goals: Anniston 11 (Kite 5, Jones 2, Milton, Ferrell 3); Shelby County 5 (Ish. Montgomery, Lewter, Straate 2, Harper).
Fouled out: Collins. Total fouls: Anniston 14, Shelby County 10. Officials: Estees, Bradford, Pearson.

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