They lumbered toward the door of the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center, decidedly smitten with their freshly won state championship trophy.
The St. Jude boys basketball players ambled along peacefully, grins still as prevalent as their maroon jump suites, until a throng of their fans first saw them.
The Pirates suddenly had another wild celebration on their hands.
Just one, like the on-court glee they showed after Friday’s 57-56 win over Brantley, wasn’t enough.
Two, three and four didn’t quench their appetite, either. Five, after they suddenly rushed toward those fans, wasn’t going to be the last, too.
“I’m not going to sleep,” junior forward Andrew Rogers said. “Sleeping is the last thing on my mind. I want to relish this.”
The Pirates went at it at the horn, after Brantley missed a last-second shot and couldn’t get off a putback attempt.
They repeated when presented their Class 1A championship trophy, again after posing for their championship team picture and finally (with gusto) in their locker room.
A final one just inside the BJCC was certain to lead to more.
“We’re going to party,” senior guard Keith Washington said. “We’re going to party like we never have before. We’re going to celebrate this.”
Jude’s seventh AHSAA championship — the school won two in the pre-integration Alabama Interscholastic Athletic Association in the 1960s — hit suddenly.
Rogers sank a free throw with 24.3 seconds remaining to snap a tie.
Brantley got the ball into the frontcourt and called timeout with 14.8 to play. The Bulldogs went to their star, junior Wesley Person Jr.
“I got the shot that I wanted, but it came up short,” Person said. “Didn’t get the bounce.”
Terrence Bogen pulled in an offensive rebound and tried to go up for a potential game-winning shot. Jude’s Tommy Burton stuffed the attempt.
“I was scared because I thought they would call a foul,” said Burton, who soon was racing his teammates to the Jude bench on the other end of the floor.
“Now, we’re state champions, and nobody can take it from us,” Burton said. “These are probably going to be the best days of my life. We’re state champs.”
Rogers finished with 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting and pulled in 10 rebounds for the Pirates (28-6), who last won a championship in the bygone JaMychal Green era of 2008.
Roderic Scott added 12 points, LaDarius Brinson 11 and Washington 10.
Person had 22 points and O.J. Guice 17 for Brantley (21-6).
“I couldn’t believe we had won a state championship,” said Brinson, a waterboy for Jude’s 2008 team. “This has been a lifelong dream for me, ever since I saw JaMychal and his class do it.
“I wished for the same for me.”
The Pirates started plotting how they’ll spend the next few days celebrating. They tried to convince coach Earl Taylor that he had promised he would take them to the mall.
They were sure they’d have a championship-worthy meal at Taylor’s expense, too.
By Monday, their smiles may have slightly softened and their thoughts might consider the word “repeat.” Except for Washington’s 10 points, one rebound and one assist, all the rest came from underclassmen.
“I’ve never felt like this before,” Rogers said. “I’m ready to do it again.”
Freshman no more
Scott still isn’t playing like a freshman.
The one who provides instant offense for St. Jude hit 4-of-8 shots from 3-point range in sparking St. Jude to a 57-56 win against Brantley in the Class 1A title game.
“If you look back, Roderic carried us for a stretch there,” St. Jude coach Earl Taylor said. “And for a guy to be only in ninth grade with the poise he played with, it’s amazing.”
The slender, but fearless 5-foot, 11-inch Scott hit back-to-back 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to give St. Jude a 50-44 lead to open the fourth quarter.
“Normally when I hit one shot, I’m feeling it,” Scott said. “So I came back and shot another one and hit it.”
Scott finished with 12 points, two assists, one steal and only one turnover in 24 minutes. With senior Keith Washington in foul trouble most of the game, Scott saw more action and delivered.
“Sometimes I forget he’s only in ninth grade,” Taylor said. “I put a lot of pressure on my point guards because they are my eyes and ears out there.”
With Scott being only a freshman, no wonder he’s so confident the Pirates will be back next year, the year after and the year after.
“Certainly,” Scott said. “We’re going to try to start a dynasty.”
St. Jude has won seven AHSAA state titles with the last one being in 2008 and nine total championships.
Taylor was introduced at Coach Earl Moore before Friday’s press conference after the Pirates beat Brantley in the state title game.
Coach Taylor’s name plate at the press table read Coach Earl Moore. The AHSAA official apologized for getting Taylor’s name wrong.
“I’ve been called worse,” Taylor responded.