E.A. Sports Today

This 0’s a hero

Hall scores game-high 26 to lead Sacred Heart past Sand Rock, setting up region title matchup with LaFayette on Tuesday
 
By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today
 
JACKSONVILLE –
Taishun Hall wears zero for no particular reason other than it was the jersey assigned to him and he was zeroed in Friday night.
 
The junior point guard scored 26 points and helped Sacred Heart pull away from Sand Rock 80-46 in the Class 2A Northeast Regional semifinals at Jacksonville State.
 
The win propelled the Cardinals (16-14) into Tuesday’s anticipated region championship game against LaFayette, where they will be playing for a seventh straight trip to the Final Four.
 
Hall was 10 of 16 from the floor and led all scorers. He also had three rebounds and three assists. Cade Landers had 18 points and team highs of seven rebounds and five steals. Jack Miller added 10 points.
 
“I feel like I did the right thing,” Hall said. “I was helping my team. I made the right plays. But I couldn’t do it without them.”
 
Hall had 12 points in the first and scored the Cardinals first eight in their big third quarter that broke it open.

“I thought Taishun played really well,” Sacred Heart coach Ralph Graves said. “He was kind of down on himself turning the ball over a few times right there at the end of quarters, but I think he bounced back out of it. He started to make shot after shot, making tough shots, getting out on the open floor. He was making plays layup after layup so you’ve got to take your hat off to him for making those plays.”
 
Graves thought his team “played well in spurts” and had “one of the better games we put together all year.” The Cardinals led by 12 at halftime and then pulled away with a 21-6 third quarter after switching to a more full-court focused defense and “a lot of uncharacteristic things” Sand Rock coach John Blackwell said were happening among the Wildcats (21-11).
 
Sand Rock has been a strong free throw and 3-point shooting team this season, but the Wildcats were 12-of-20 from the line and 4-of-19 from 3-point range. They were 2-of-5 from the line and 0-for-6 from beyond the arc in that third quarter and 0-for-11 from 3-point range in the second half.
 
“When you shoot it that well and then you run into a night like tonight … some nights you look back and say, boy, it’s just not your night,” Blackwell sad. “That had a lot to do with it and it just kind of went downhill in the third quarter. … You’ve got to have a letdown every once in a while; unfortunately, I think tonight was it.”
 
The Cardinals, meanwhile, remained consistent throughout the game. They were 13-of-28 from the field in the first half, 14-of-28 in the second.
 
“The main focus at halftime was we needed to play to the standard of Sacred Heart and play really intense defense and I felt like we came out in the third quarter and were playing like to prove something,” Miller said. “We were playing with a lot of intensity and I’m pretty sure it showed.”
  
The spread did create some tension. Sand Rock coach John Blackwell took exception to Sacred Heart’s aggressive up-tempo approach with its young reserves against the Sand Rock young reserves creating some tense moments immediately after the game. The Cardinals were leading by 23 going into the fourth quarter, then forced eight turnovers of which they scored 11 more points.
 
State officials administrating the game told the teams to walk off the floor without shaking hands to avoid incident. Graves did come back out of the tunnel to offer a handshake to Blackwell with the Wildcats still on the floor. 
 
Blackwell said he probably shouldn’t have said anything, but was protecting his players, who he described as “kids who were born in Sand Rock and grow up Sand Rock and they dream of wearing a Sand Rock jersey.” Graves said he did have “some words” with the Wildcats’ coach, but wasn’t about to apologize for the way he coaches his players.
 
“We can only coach our team,” Graves said. “The eighth-graders that we have out there playing on the court, I can’t tell those kids not to play defense. You want us to sit back so you can score. We’re not trying to let you score. That’s not being classless or anything like that. It’s just we’re going to play the way that we want to play and another coach or another team is not going to dictate that.”
 
Looking forward, Graves said he projected as early as the end of last season LaFayette would be here. He gave an emphatic “nope” when asked if the Bulldogs were the biggest threat to the Cardinals’ run of Final Four appearances.
 
“I know those kids pretty well and they’re on a mission, but we are, too,” he said. “We were two of the best teams out of the Northeast. I think whoever comes out of the Northeast is going to win it. LaFayette is pretty good, but we’re happy to have that chance at them. That’s who we want to play. They’re the No. 1 team in the state, that’s who we want to play. We’re not dodging anyone.”

Cover photo: Sacred Heart’s Taishun Hall (center) drives between Sand Rock defenders Jacob St. Clair (left) and Cade Ballenger. (Photo by Shannon Fagan)

CLASS 2A NORTHEAST REGIONAL
Sacred Heart 80, Sand Rock 46
SAND ROCK (21-11) –
Garyn Sharpe 2-7 4-5 8, Cade Ballenger 2-8 4-5 8, Xander Bradley 1-3 1-1 3, Eli Bates 3-10 0-0 9, Jacob St. Clair 3-8 0-2 7, Lane Burt 0-1 0-0 0, Brady Jackson 0-2 2-2 2, Ben Dale 1-1 0-0 2, Sloan Wood 0-0 0-0 0, Logan Crider 0-0 0-0 0, Logan Wood 0-1 0-0 0, Brian East 0-1 0-0 0, Kaden Justice 2-4 1-2 5, Bradley Jackson 1-2 0-3 2, Ace Ashley 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 15-48 12-20 46.
SACRED HEART (16-14) – Taishun Hill 10-16 5-7 26, Jack Miller 3-7 2-2 10, Javen Croft 3-4 0-0 6, Delroy Francis 2-3 0-4 4, Cade Landers 5-15 7-9 18, Jarek Burroughs 2-6 3-3 8, Allen Marshall 0-1 0-0 0, Devin Barksdale 2-4 1-2 7, Anthony Bothwell 0-0 0-0 0, Eric Tolson 0-0 0-0 0, Mykhel Simmons 0-0 1-2 1. Totals 27-56 19-29 80.
 
Sand Rock         13 13  6    14  –  46
Sacred Heart    16 18  21  25  –  80
3-point goals: Sand Rock 4-19 (Sharpe 0-1, Ballenger 0-2, Bates 3-8, St. Clair 1-5, Burt 0-1, East 0-1, Justice 0-1); Sacred Heart 7-18 (Hall 1-3, Miller 2-4, Francis 0-1, Landers 1-3, Burroughs 1-4, Barksdale 2-3). Rebounds: Sand Rock 36 (Bradley 6); Sacred Heart 37 (Landers 7, Francis 6). Total fouls: Sand Rock 19, Sacred Heart 18. Officials: Crocker, Henry, Dupree.

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