BIRMINGHAM — The most valuable player of the past two Class 1A state tournaments got another MVP campaign started Monday, and Sacred Heart’s go-for-four campaign is down to one more.
The Cardinals got 25 points and 19 rebounds from Diante Wood and ran off and left Cornerstone in the second half of their Class 1A state semifinal Monday, winning 76-60.
The victory earned Sacred Heart (22-10) a matchup with Georgiana in Thursday’s 5:45 p.m. final. The Cardinals seek their fourth state title in as many years.
“It’s overwhelming,” said Wood, part of teams that beat Georgiana in the 2016 state final and the 2017 semifinals. “It says a lot about our program and everything. We’ve put in a lot of work to come back every year.”
Cornerstone finished 24-8.
Sacred Heart also got 16 points from Khalil Watkins and 14 points and nine rebounds from Murdock Simmons on Monday. The Cardinals outrebounded Cornerstone 49-28.
Wood, an Alabama signee and cornerstone member of Sacred Heart’s turn to dynasty, eyes his final high school game Thursday.
“I just have to give it my all and leave everything on the court,” he said. “I can’t hold back from my team.”
Wood always seems to bring his best for the biggest stages. He was most valuable player for the Calhoun County and Northeast Regional tournaments this season.
Monday, he took 12 rebounds and nine points into halftime. All of his points came inside the 3-point line.
“He really dominated the game,” Graves said. “He dominated the boards. We’re going to need that again Thursday.”
Wood had one dunk in the game, off a Watkins feed in transition. Wood’s one block and outlet pass led to a wide-open Watkins layup.
It was a signature Wood performance on a day when Sacred Heart broke its recent trend of postseason close games. The Cardinals had 31 field goals to Cornerstone’s 21, in no small part because of second-chance opportunities that arose from 21 offensive rebounds.
Sacred Heart also held Cornerstone to 38.2 percent shooting. It was 27 percent (10-for-37) through three quarters, but the Eagles went 11-for-18 in the fourth, playing some of that time against the Cardinals’ reserves.
Graves, having scouted Cornerstone in the Central Regional, went with a zone to handle the Eagles’ dribble penetration.
“We saw they were really good off the bounce,” Graves said. “They wanted to penetrate and kick the ball a whole lot. They love the shoot the three, and we know they love to play up and down defense, so we just thought we would play one of our zone defenses that we have that can stop penetration.
“It went really well for us.”
Wood’s big-game play went best for Sacred Heart. The common denominator on all three of the Cardinals’ state championships to date, playing in his fifth Final Four, now gets one last chance.
“Diante is a really good player, just his focus for the game,” Graves said. “He’s very familiar here.”