ALJ run ends against Sacred Heart in state semis

Published 3:35 pm Monday, February 23, 2015

A.L. Johnson’s season came to an end Monday after a tough outing against Sacred Heart.

The Eagles’ Cinderella story ended with a 74-40 loss in the Class 1A semifinals at the BJCC in Birmingham.

ALJ hit just 15 of their 70 shot attempts for a 21 percent shooting effort in the game.

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“We came a long way this season, and our guys persevered to make it this far,” ALJ head coach Johnney Ford said. “My hat’s off to these guys for playing their hearts out all season and making it farther than anyone expected. This is a team that over the last seven or eight years only won a total of 10 games and hasn’t won an area game in four or five years.”

The Cardinals had four players in double figures scoring-wise, and three of those players had double-doubles.

“When anyone gets a double-double, it’s huge,” Sacred Heart head coach Ralpheal Graves said. “When three guys do it on the same team in a game, that’s incredible. I’m proud of how our guys carried themselves and handled themselves today.”

In the first quarter, the Cardinals struck first and built a 4-0 lead before Shermon Kennedy hit a three-pointer to pull the Eagles closer. A Sacred Heart three-pointer gave them a 7-3 lead, then a dunk and a jumper by Desmond Mair tied the game at 7-7. That was the closest ALJ would get the rest of the game.

A Samuel Miller jumper gave the Cardinals a 9-7 lead, and they never relinquished it the rest of the way.

After one, Sacred Heart held a 17-10 lead. By halftime, the Cardinals had stretched that lead to 34-21. Diante Wood and DJ Heath led the way for Sacred Heart with 9 points each. Mair was the leader for ALJ with 6 points at the break.

The Cardinals shot 43 percent in the first half compared to just 28 percent for the Eagles.

Sacred Heart’s biggest quarter of the game came in the third as they scored 24 points to take a 23-point 58-35 lead into the final quarter.

The Cardinals took their largest lead of the game with 1:06 to play with their youngest players on the floor. They took a 35-point lead on a free throw by Kevion Nolan to take a 74-39 lead.

Wood led the Cardinals with 22 points and 13 rebounds, followed by Nolan with 17 points and 13 rebounds.

Also with a double-double was Heath with 14 points and 12 boards. Kavarri Ross had 10 points for the Cardinals to round out the scorers with double figures.

For ALJ, none of the Eagles scored in double digits. Leo Baker led the way in the game with 9 points and 7 rebounds. Mair had 8 points and 6 rebounds, and Charles Edwards and Kennedy each had 7 points. Tywon Scott was the leading rebounder with 9 boards for the Eagles.

“We took 70 shots and only made 15, so that set them up with a lot of fast break opportunities,” Ford said.

Kennedy, who led the team to the region championship with 28 points against Georgiana, was kept in foul trouble throughout the game and fouled out with 1:02 to play in the third quarter.

“He stayed in foul trouble and couldn’t get into a rhythm,” Ford said. “It definitely affected his game.”

Despite the loss, ALJ’s Edwards was still upbeat after the game.

“We’ve never made it here before, and nobody expected us to make it this far,” he said. “Today, it just didn’t go our way. You don’t want to get here and lose on the first day, but we came a long way. This was a heartbreaker.”

Sacred Heart will face Sunshine on Thursday at 6 p.m. for the Class 1A State Championship.