The Cardinals downed Ragland 66-55 in the Northeast Regional boys finals to advance to the Class 1A Final Four for the first time in school history. They will face top-ranked St. Jude on Tuesday at 1:30 at Birmingham’s BJCC Arena.
“It’s exciting with it being the first time,” Cardinals forward Diante Wood said. “Making history at a small school, we’re just happy to be where we are.”
Sacred Heart (24-6) never gave Ragland much of a chance to return to Birmingham, after the Purple Devils made the trip a year ago. Ragland finished at 16-9, with four of the losses coming to the Cardinals.
“It’s kind of tough playing a team four times, but if that’s what you have to do to make it to Birmingham you just have to follow suit,” Sacred Heart coach Ralpheal Graves said. “There was a reason we beat them three times. I guess people think it’s hard to beat a team four times, but isn’t it hard for that team to beat you one time? That’s the way you have to look at it, too.”
Hot shooting by D.J. Heath, Kevion Nolan and Quen Williams gave the Cardinals a 21-6 lead after the first quarter, and Ragland never could make a serious dent in the deficit.
The Cardinals entered halftime shooting 60 percent beyond the 3-point arc and 57.1 percent from the field. The hot shooting continued into the third quarter, and by the final period, the victory was all but assured, with Sacred Heart leading by as many as 20 down the stretch.
“You have some nights when you come in and are going to hit shots. That’s part of the game,” Graves said. “I was just proud that the boys came through. I’m the coach; I’m not shooting any shots. They deserve all the credit.”
Heath, the regional Most Valuable Player, led Sacred Heart with 24 points and seven rebounds. Williams had 15 points and seven rebounds, Nolan had 13 points and Wood added 12 points.
Ragland was led by Jacob Brewster’s 20 points. Kijana Lindsay had 11 points and 13 rebounds, while Levi Campbell had 13 points.
The Cardinals’ next opponent, St. Jude, handled business easily in the Central Regional. It defeated Loachapoka 70-48 in the final to advance to next week’s state tournament.
Graves said Sacred Heart’s game plan won’t change against the Pirates, who are 22-5.
“We’re going to play the same way that we’ve been playing,” Graves said. “We’re going to go back to the lab and we’re going to prepare on the things we’ve been doing. We’ve got to execute better down the stretch. We’re still going to continue to do the things that got us here.”
Brandon Miller covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575 or follow him on Twitter @bmiller_star.