Right from the opening tip of Sacred Heart’s 79-50 win over Ranburne in the sub-regional round Tuesday night, the Cardinals had to know it was their night.
Ranburne won the tip, but sent the ball sailing out of bounds. A Cade Landers putback, a Jayden Stone steal and layup, and two takeaways and lay-ins from Khalil Watkins later, and the Cardinals had an 8-0 lead before Ranburne ever moved the ball past halfcourt.
Sacred Heart scored the first 13 unanswered points, weathered Ranburne’s response, and poured it on from there to reach the Northeast Regional at Jacksonville State once again.
“This is part of the steps we have to take to get to where we’re going to get,” Sacred Heart coach Ralpheal Graves said. “We’re moving on, and we’re just happy to move on. Ranburne had a good team and a good game plan, we’re just happy to be advancing.”
The four-time defending Class 1A state champions will make their first regional appearance as a 2A school on Friday, joining the Sacred Heart girls.
The Cardinals (19-10) will play Friday at 4:30 p.m. at Jacksonville State against Fyffe, which was ranked first in the final regular-season prep basketball rankings. The Red Devils won their sub-regional matchup 49-47 over Asbury on Tuesday night.
Ranburne finished its season at 16-12.
Graves said that despite new players on this year’s team and playing at the 2A level for the first time, the Cardinals will be ready to go Friday.
“You prepare the best way that you can no matter who you’re playing or what level you’re playing at,” Graves said. “We’ll just put in the game plan, practice hard, and give it our best shot on Friday.”
Sacred Heart jumped all over Ranburne on Tuesday night partly due to the first-half performance of junior Cade Landers.
Landers scored all 13 of his points in the first half, hitting two 3-pointers in the first quarter to help the Cardinals quickly gain the lead. The junior didn’t score in limited minutes in the second half while the rout was on.
“Cade set the tone for us tonight,” Graves said of Landers. “He’s one of our toughest players, and we’re just happy he came out with the sense of urgency that he did to put us at a championship level.”
Jayden Stone had another strong night with 18 points, eight rebounds and six assists, while Khalil Watkins scored 16.
Sacred Heart even got some contributions late by its young reserves, as Anthony Bothwell, Ray Simmons, and Delroy Francis each scored in the fourth quarter after checking in for the first time.
“Our intensity was there right from the start,” Graves said. “Our defense was great. We’ve just got to keep working on it and be more disciplined. I was proud of the effort they gave.”
Jake Burson scored 13 to lead Ranburne, and put up 11 and pulled down eight rebounds.