SG at SH bball

Sacred Heart head coach Ralpheal Graves during the Spring Garden at Sacred Heart area championship basketball game played at McClellan. Photo by Stephen Gross / The Anniston Star

Spring Garden’s near upset of Sacred Heart in Saturday’s 1A, Area 10 final deserves follow-up thoughts. There was so much to tell.

The boys team at a school known for girls basketball hung for four quarters against a team that hasn’t lost to a 1A opponent in four years. Spring Garden lost 50-49 and had two possessions with a chance to win, and initial focus naturally fell on Panthers coach Ricky Austin’s proven chops.

A couple of days out, it’s worth noting what Ralpheal Graves did to keep Sacred Heart on top, and not just Saturday.

The Cardinals don’t have three Division I players any more. Two play Division I ball, and Alabama signee Diante Wood remains.

With three total new starters, Graves guided the Cardinals through Wood’s early season absence with an ankle injury. When Wood returned, a mostly new lineup eventually found chemistry with him.

As Sacred Heart played its usual brutal schedule, designed to steel a team rather than bulge its record, Graves kept the Cardinals focused on long goals. Here Sacred Heart stands in mid-February, having beaten Oxford for the Cardinals’ second Calhoun County title on Graves’ watch. Once again, they’ll host a sub-regional.

Graves’ team came ready for big moments.

When the foul count went decidedly against Sacred Heart in Saturday’s first half, Graves remained calm. When Wood made body-language pleas to referees, Graves calmed him.

The ball found its way out of a crowded lane, and Khalil Watkins came ready to be the star. He hit three 3-pointers in the second half, including the game-winner.

Area coaches have speculated aloud and privately on how Graves acquires talent at a tiny Catholic school. Nobody should question that he can coach.

Sports Writer Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter: @jmedley_star.