E.A. Sports Today

Heart of a champion

Smaller, younger Sacred Heart rallies from early deficit to beat Westbrook Christian for another area title; Landers named MVP

Sacred Heart won its seventh straight area title and eighth in the last nine years with Friday’s victory over Westbrook Christian.

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today
ANNISTON – Sacred Heart has won a lot of area tournament championships in a lot of different ways during their current run of excellence, but this latest title may belong in a category all by itself.

Sacred Heart senior Cade Landers was named MVP of the Class 2A Area 11 boys tournament.

The Cardinals claimed their seventh straight area crown – and eighth in the last nine years – Friday night with a 50-43 victory over Westbrook Christian at the Anniston Aquatic Center. Of all of them, this one may be the most special – for a lot of reasons.
They played the game without a big man against a team with a decided size advantage across the front. They were down by 14 points in the first half and seemingly about to get run out of their own gym. And they were playing with a lineup unlike many they’ve put on the floor the previous six years of Final Four appearances.
“This is one of our better wins; I think it’s more of a program win,” Cardinals coach Ralph Graves said. “I thought our guys really showed what Sacred Heart is about, especially being down double-digits at home to a team like Westbrook, who is a ranked team and we’re not ranked anymore. With us being down like that it just showed a true heart of a champion and our kids come to fight.
“It doesn’t matter what talent we have or what championship we’ve won, our kids understand that to play here in our program you have to play with a great deal of effort, focus and intensity, and those kids did that tonight. For this win to happen, it was big for us, really big for us.”
The epitome of that philosophy had to be tournament MVP Cade Landers. The senior guard missed virtually the entire regular season with a high left ankle sprain, returning for the first time in limited minutes in the final regular season. He played extended minutes for the first time in the area tournament opener and earned MVP honors for the way he held the Cardinals together and helped them close it out in the fourth quarter.
Landers scored 13 points and was 6-for-6 from the foul line in the final 50 seconds to seal what seemed early in the game to be an improbable victory.
“That was definitely big,” Landers said. “When you come back in a close game the pressure’s on you and some people are going to choke, but I went up there and I hit them.”
“Cade is the toughest kid on our team,” Graves said. “That’s one of the pillers of our program. He’s one of the tougher kids and the tougher you are the better you will be in this program; that’s just how it is. He made the plays, he rallied the team together. Cade is the emotional leader, no nonsense, he ain’t backing down from nothing. You’ve got to take your hat off to Cade and I’m proud of him.”
Playing without senior post Aaron Moore who missed school Friday and a lineup that included several eighth- and ninth-graders, the Cardinals fell behind 24-10 midway through the second quarter and trailed by 12 at halftime. Freshman Javen Croft’s defense keyed their comeback in the third quarter and Jack Miller’s 3-pointer right before the buzzer gave them a 38-35 lead going into the fourth quarter.
Graves called Miller’s 3-pointer backbreaking. “That basically was saying we’re here to fight now,” he said. One of Croft’s steal was an amazing vertical leap that led to a Landers’ layup right before the Cardinals took their first lead since 2-0.

Westbrook’s Christian Morris hit a 3-pointer with 53.4 seconds left to make it 42-40 game and set in motion Landers’ endgame heroics. He hit his first two after being fouled on the inbounds play. He made the next two after Warriors’ guard Joe Gilchrist missed a wide open drive down the lane that could’ve cut it to 44-42.
Instead, Landers made it 46-40 and then hit his last four shots on either side of an Andrew Lockridge 3-pointer that was Westbrook’s final points of the night.
“I feel like we proved ourselves tonight that Sacred Heart can still go all the way,” Landers said. “Everybody has been sleeping on Sacred Heart this year, but we definitely proved ourselves tonight. We faced adversity and we got the win. We kept chipping away one possession at a time and we came back and got it.”

The Cardinals now host Ranburne in the Class 2A boys sub-region round Tuesday. Westbrook Christian travels to Area 9 champion LaFayette.

Championship game
Sacred Heart 50, Westbrook Christian 43
Andrew Lockridge 2 2-3 7, Grant Martin 0 0-0 0, Brandon Foster 0 0-0 0, Joe Gilchrist 1 3-6 5, Bryce Wood 1 0-0 3, Cade Phillips 2 1-2 5, Grayson Wright 3 2-2 9, Christian Morris 5 0-2 14. Totals 14 8-15 43.
SACRED HEART – Taishun Hall 4 0-0 8, Jarek Burroughs 2 0-0 6, Jack Miller 4 3-3 12, Devin Barksdale 0 0-0 0, Delroy Francis 2 5-5 9, Cade Landers 3 7-8 13, Javen Croft 1 0-0 2. Totals 16 15-16 50.
Westbrook                 14  15 6    8    –  43
Sacred Heart             5   12  21  12  –  50
3-point goals: Westbrook 7 (Lockridge, Wood, Wright, Morris 4); Sacred Heart 3 (Burroughs 2, Miller). Total fouls: Westbrook 16, Sacred Heart 16. Officials: Williams, Lemon, Fomby.
MVP: Cade Landers, Sacred Heart
Nick Lewis, Gaston
Briley Hale, Ohatchee
Andrew Lockridge, Westbrook Christian
Jack Miller, Sacred Heart
Joe Gilchrist, Westbrook Christian
Taishun Hall, Sacred Heart

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