After its large lead was trimmed to single digits in the second half, St. Jude responded with a strong fourth quarter to defeat Sacred Heart 66-51 in the Class 1A semifinals on Tuesday at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center to advance to its second straight state title game.
The Pirates (23-7) play Parrish (28-2) for the Class 1A state championship at 11 a.m. Friday.
“I felt like when we had them down by 20, that their will would be broken. But they kept playing,” St. Jude coach Earl Taylor said. “I felt like if we played four quarters with intensity — as far as the defense was concerned — we should have won it going away. But I do thank the good Lord for the victory, and we’re in the state championship game for the second year in a row.”
The defending 1A champion Pirates came out swinging, and landed blow after blow.
St. Jude’s full-court press led to multiple baskets in transition, and the Pirates jumped out to a 23-7 lead after the opening period.
St. Jude was just too much to handle for Sacred Heart inside, grabbing 11 offensive rebounds in the first half.
St. Jude led by as much as 22 early in the third, but Sacred Heart (25-7) heated up for a 19-point third quarter to briefly cut the Pirates’ lead to nine.
Sacred Heart hit four 3-pointers and closed the quarter on a 16-4 run to trail by just 10 at the end of three.
The Pirates outscored Sacred Heart 20-15 in the final quarter to pull out the victory.
“We made an adjustment and put different people on him. I switched to (Quendarius Williams) because he was hitting a lot of three’s, and it kind of frustrated him,” Rogers said. “We’ve seen a lot of different scenarios, going to overtime and fighting back from huge deficits. So certain scenarios, they really don’t scare us, they just let us know we have to switch something up…We’ve been through so much this year and last year, that it’s really hard to rattle us.”
Rogers, the reigning Advertiser All-Metro Player of the Year, was one of three Pirates to post a double-double.
Rogers scored 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, giving him 909 career rebounds for his St. Jude career. Rogers eclipsed the 1,000-point mark in the regional championship.
Tommy Burton led the Pirates with 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Jacob Winston, who Taylor called the team’s “unsung hero,” scored 16 points and grabbed a team-high 13 rebounds.
“I don’t really talk much. I let my game speak for itself,” Winston said. “We started with more of an inside-out game, throwing the ball inside, letting them work and creating outside shots and flowing together. In the second half, we kind of lost that. But I think we picked it up at the end and realized what was at stake.”