Sacred Heart boys worked hard, proved doubters wrong and earned program’s fourth straight championship

Sacred Heart waits out the final seconds of its fourth straight state championship.

It takes hard work, determination, dedication and talent to win a state championship.
Sprinkle in plenty of doubt from outsiders, and the ingredients are there for a satisfying journey. 
The Sacred Heart boys basketball program entered the 2016-2017 season with three straight state championships, but there were also questions and doubts. Gone were Mustapha Heron, Tyrn Flowers, Charles Fisher and J.T. Riddick from a dominant team in 2015-2016. Heron went on to have a terrific freshman season at Auburn. Flowers moved on to UMass, and Flowers went right down the road to Post University.

The Hearts pose for a team photo.

There was already talent on the bench for head coach Jon Carroll, and it became enriched with the additions of junior Isaiah Gaiter and sophomore Omar Rowe. Seniors like Legend Johnson and Courie Stevenson had been there already for three straight titles.
“We knew what it took from the beginning of the season,” Johnson said. “We told
them it was going to be a lot of hard work.”

“We came here with a similar attitude to what we had the
first few years,” Stevenson said. “We just all competed every day against each other.”
There were close shaves along the way during a 20-0 regular season. Several Brass City foes threw their best punch at Sacred Heart, but the Hearts kept chugging along. Sacred Heart was also tested by out-of-state opponents Benjamin Cardozo and South Shore, and those games helped as well.
The Hearts were able to get through the NVL Tournament and win a title, including back-to-back wins over Crosby and Holy Cross to finish it off.
Sacred Heart didn’t emerge unscathed though. Junior standout Raheem Solomon was lost for the Class L state tournament with a knee injury. Many different players could turn it up for the Hearts, but none more than Solomon.
A four-peat was certainly sweet for the Sacred Heart boys basketball program.
What would happen without him? The doubters certainly had their thoughts, but so did the Hearts. Down went Joel Barlow in the first round, followed by Northwest Catholic, Windsor Middletown and finally Notre Dame-Fairfield in a rematch of last season’s Class M final, with Heron in attendance.
“They said we would be out in the second round, and we proved them wrong,” Johnson said of the doubters.
“They told us we wouldn’t were going to win this, weren’t going to finish undefeated,” Stevenson said.
Not without Heron. Not without Flowers. Not without Fisher. And no way without Solomon.
How wrong those predictions turned out to be.
Johnson didn’t hesitate when asked whether this was the most satisfying of the four titles.
“Of course,” Johnson said with a smile. “Not only because I’m a senior, but there’s no Mustapha, there’s no Tyrn Flowers, no Charles Fisher. And then Raheem goes down. It speaks for itself.”
“Sophomore year, I just kind of went with the flow,” Stevenson said. “Last year I contributed a lot. For this one to be mine with my brothers, it actually means a lot.”
Stevenson was proud to make history winning four straight state championships with Johnson.
Head coach Jon Carroll had nothing but praise for this team, one that he and assistant coaches Jay Seay and Darryl Parker pushed to be their best.
“I couldn’t be prouder of this group,” Carroll said. “It’s really one of the
most enjoyable coaching experiences that I’ve had.”
Sacred Heart’s players celebrate with the student section, also known as the SuperFans.
Johnson and Stevenson are gone, along with Peyton Stephens, Nahzir Ivester and Tariq Price. 
But here’s the thing. 
Solomon is sure to be hungry for his senior season after injury halted his junior campaign. Gaiter, Rowe and Mikey West are also back, along with all those who pushed this team to be the best it could be. Solomon and Gaiter will be seniors, but they are not the only ones. Andre Anderson, Francis Barton, Noah Francisco, Michael Napolitano, Garrett Jones and Zachary Francisco will be seniors. West and Rowe will be key parts of the equation as juniors, and Gailey Etienne will also be a junior.
The contributions of Solomon, Gaiter, Rowe and West have been well documented, but all those other players helped push this team to be the best it can be. And getting back to Mohegan Sun Arena for a title shot is plenty motivation. 
We may as well wait until the ball is thrown up next season before making any predictions. This team showed that hard work, dedication, determination and talent can overcome doubt and adversity.