Parrish wasn’t ready for this. Not the least bit.
St. Jude brought its pressure defense, championship experience and dismantled the Tornadoes in winning a second straight AHSAA Class 1A state championship, 65-37, Friday at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center.
“I don’t think there is anyone similar to St. Jude,” said Parrish coach Heath Burns, with a laugh. “I think they’re probably the best team we’ve seen. We’ve not seen anyone like that at all.”
The final score could have been much worse. The Pirates (24-7) led by as many as 32 points.
The game didn’t just get ugly. It got Phyllis Diller.
Oh, Parrish (28-3) started out fine. Making their first-ever appearance in the state title game, the Tornadoes took a 2-0 lead on the game’s opening possession. Then things unraveled in a hurry.
The Tornadoes turned it over on their second possession.
Third time they had the ball? Offensive foul.
Fourth time? St. Jude forced a turnover on a 10-second count.
Burns called a 30-second timeout, but that served as just a slight pause to the inevitable. After junior Tommy Burton put St. Jude up 9-2, senior LaDarius Brinson forced a five-count on Jermichael Harris.
Minutes later, St. Jude had stretched its lead to 21-2.
Thought Burns might call a timeout when the Pirates went up 14. It just felt like a good time to call one, but it didn’t really matter.
St. Jude had its press going full throttle, and Parrish didn’t have the equation or the players to solve it.
“We self destructed,” Burns said.
By this point, St. Jude’s press had fully formed like Voltron, and Brinson was the head of it. Harris started the game as Parrish’s primary ball handler, but Brinson got inside his jersey and took him out the game.
“At beginning of the game, Coach (Earl Taylor) was telling me he likes to penetrate,” Brinson said. “Since I woke up this morning, I was telling myself I have to play a very good defensive game. Once we got the pressure on him, I think he just gave up.”
Noticing how uncomfortable Harris was with the ball, Burns had his guard play off the ball. Once that happened, Parrish started to really melt under the heat of St. Jude’s press.
“From watching them play, we figured we could put pressure on their guards and try to get them out of their rhythm,” Taylor said. “Whomever we play, that is our game plan.”
The Pirates forced seven turnovers in building a 25-6 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Game over. Back-to-back. History made.
“I didn’t want it to end,” St. Jude senior Andrew Rogers said. “I wish I was still playing right now. I wish I could wake up every day and play the same game.”
Sure Parrish doesn’t have the same sentiments.
The Tornadoes don’t want to re-live this nightmare.
The reality is this — St. Jude is a 5A or 6A program wearing 1A jerseys. The Pirates took 6A power G.W. Carver to the wire before losing by seven, 60-53, at Carver.
The Wolverines reached the state semifinals for a fourth straight year this season. So if St. Jude tested them, you knew it’d wreak havoc on even the best 1A competition.
Starting with the subregional final, St. Jude won its last five games by an average margin of 26 points.
Hush. Did I hear someone say three-peat?
St. Jude’s biggest roadblock to winning a state title didn’t make it to Birmingham — Brantley. The Bulldogs took the Pirates down to the wire last season before falling, 57-56, in the state title game.
So Brantley would have had extra incentive to beat St. Jude. The Bulldogs have familiarity with the Pirates and a big-time play in Wesley Person Jr. to give them a shooter’s chance.
When playing a team that presses like St. Jude, you need someone to make the defense pay with 3-pointers and find open people out of the trap. Wesley Person can do both, particularly the scoring part.
The son of former Auburn star and NBA guard, Wesley Person, had 55 points in the South Regional final the Bulldogs lost, 82-80, to Sunshine. Now Parrish beat Sunshine, 60-46, in the state semifinals.
So who’s to say St. Jude wouldn’t have beaten Brantley in the same convincing fashion. There is one thing I do know.
Parrish wasn’t ready for the Pirates. Not the least bit.
(Duane Rankin is an Advertiser columnist and sports writer. He can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @DuaneRankin).