The St. Jude Pirates grabbed each other, restraining themselves until they heard their name.
Each had two fistfuls of jersey with the players herded together just in front of their bench, waiting to be announced as the Class 1A Central Regional champions.
With Thursday night’s 78-63 win over Keith freshly completed, the Pirates had a few more agonizing moments to wait before sprinting to midcourt and picking up their latest regional trophy.
“I was thinking about what we’re going to do in this locker room,” sophomore Andrew Rogers said. “I have a headache now. It’s too loud in there.”
The Pirates (26-6) added to their regional championship collection — two straight years, 10 total — and will return to Birmingham.
No. 1 St. Jude, which lost in last year’s semifinals, will play either No. 3 Parrish or No. 8 Marion County at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center.
“This is the same feeling as last year, but we still have two more games to go,” guard Keith Washington said. “We want a blue trophy. We have plenty of regional trophies, but we want a state championship.”
St. Jude had four players score in double figures and shot 68 percent.
Rogers totaled 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting and pulled down 13 rebounds. His slam dunks on consecutive possessions with 21/2 minutes to play were Jude’s exclamation marks.
Washington had 17 points, Tommy Burton 15 and LaDarius Brinson 12 points and 10 assists. Brinson also suffered 11 turnovers
“It feels like we’re on top of the world, but we have to get back to work,” Burton said. “It’s not over yet.”
Thursday night’s celebration was to be truncated. The game ended around 10:30, which didn’t allow the Pirates much time.
“We’ve got to go to school (today),” Brinson said. “I’ve got to go home and go to sleep, but that’s going to motivate us more to get ready for Birmingham.”
Anfernee Simmons had 21 points to lead No. 4 Keith (21-11). Rodney Ellis added 14 points, while Walton Young and Demond Holmes scored 10 each.
The Bears had not lost to a 1A team this season. The Pirates still haven’t.
“They were relentless,” Jude coach Earl Taylor said.
Since the regional format started in 1994, the Pirates are 10-0 in regional championship appearances. They’ve won three state titles in that time — 1998, 2006, 2008 — and have six championships overall.
“The small but mighty Pirates,” Taylor said. “The kids are hungry and want to go back, and we’re back.”