For the first time in school history, the Homewood Patriots Boys Basketball Team are state champions. They defeated Muscle Shoals on Saturday 54-51 inside Legacy Arena at the BJCC.
It certainly has been a long time coming for the Patriots who lost in the championship game in 2008, as well as 2010. They saw their season end last year in the Final Four on a questionable goal-tend that was not called.
This time around they did what past teams could not, and ended the season with the blue map in their hands.
“It feels special, ya know. I’ve started 26 seasons and every one of them has ended with a loss, so it’s kind of different to end one with a win. This is a special group.” Coach Tim Shepler said after finally capturing his first state championship.
Sophomore Trey Jemison who checks in at 6-foot-9 and wears a size 17 shoe opened up the Homewood scoring with the first two baskets of the game as the Patriots came out firing. An early appearance from crowd favorite Jake Burdeshaw, mixed in with 3-pointers by Senior’s Austin Patterson and Peyton Brown, Homewood ran out to an 18-5 lead after one.
Muscle Shoals couldn’t get anything to fall early as they scored their first points with 1:30 remaining in the first quarter. The second quarter was more of the same for the Patriots as Ronald Claiborne got the rare and-1 on a 3-point shot and converted the 4-point play.
Luke ” The Greek Freak” Touliatos continued his impressive play of late with some crafty layups and Chris Miller came up big off the bench.
You knew the Trojans were not going to go lightly, as they started to chip away. As we all know, basketball is a game of runs as this was evident in the second quarter.
“It’s what you hope for, coming out 13-0, but that team isn’t going to go away. They just knocked off the #1 and #2 ranked teams in the state, they are gonna come back at us.” Shepler added on how they knew it was going to be a four quarter game.
Patterson ended the half with a layup and sent the Patriots into the locker room up 33-23. Muscle Shoals came out in the third quarter firing. They looked like a different team and after a couple 3-pointers they found themselves down 42-40 heading into the 4th quarter.
Which team was gonna #Ball4ItAll?
The trio of Touliatos, Patterson, and Claiborne paced the Patriots in the final quarter, but the Trojans never quit as they cut the Patriots lead to one with 1:12 when Calvin Bak nailed a 3-point basket. Clutch free throws from Austin Patterson and Peyton Brown down the stretch sealed it for the Patriots.
The crowd watched as the last second heave from Muscle Shoals hit the ground as the buzzer sounded. Celebration ensued as the bench mobbed the players at half court.
“We spend a lot of time practicing free throws, we do this UCONN drill where we try and make as many free throws in a minute and it helps us with our rhythm and form.” added Patterson the senior guard who has hit many clutch free throws in his career.
“That team would never say die, they kept competing and fighting hard, but I’ve got to give it to our guys who kept fighting and found a way to win.” Shepler said of how Muscle Shoal made a furious comeback in the second half.
Patterson finished the game with 15 points and three assists. Touliatos, who was named Steel City Invitational MVP earlier this season, added 6A Tournament MVP to his resume as he finished with 13 points and 6 boards. “It feels great to end a season with a win. That’s the goal to win state.”
The experience from last year also proved to be a difference in how this team prepared for this year. “We were experienced and we knew what to except to get back to this Final Four and the championship.” added the junior guard.
What a journey it has been for this group of players, especially the seniors. A team that went a combined 48-0 during their Freshmen and Junior Varsity years will go down as one of the winningest senior classes in Homewood Basketball History. “We have been playing together since sixth grade and we have developed a team chemistry, it makes us like brothers. It’s been really fun playing together.” Claiborne recalled about how special this group really is.
A turning point in the season had to of been the Steel City Invitational where the Patriots defeated Sacred Heart, Madison Academy and JO Johnson and won the whole tournament. They soon made it known this team should not be taken lightly and had what it takes not only to get back in the Final Four, but to be in contention for a state title.
Not many people gave this team a chance to make it this far after losing in Final Four a year ago. “I think the Steel City Invitational kind of vaulted us. We defeated Sacred Heart, Madison Academy, and JO Johnson and they all ended up in the same place that we did.” the veteran coach said on how the tournament help prepare them for the rest of the season.
This championship was for more than just the guys that were on the team today though. It was for guys like Ronald Nored, Jo Moore, Marvin Whitt, Jeremey Watson, Winston Brooks, Malik Cook. The list goes on and on of players who came through this program and left their mark, but never accomplished what these guys did.
Not sure Coach Shepler gets the credit he deserves as he got career win #500 earlier this season and finally gets his first state title. The guy has been doing this the right way for a long time and hopefully will start to get more recognition.
Those teams back in the day from 2008-2011 were loaded with talent and could play with just about anyone. That’s what makes this championship so special. It’s for more than just this team. It’s for Homewood. All the past players, students, faculty, everyone. Will they savor this moment and celebrate the title? Sure, but in a couple of days the team will start preparing for next year and it will be business as usual. That’s just how Shepler works. That’s what makes him so great at what he does. That’s the Homewood way, a group of guys buying into a system and playing together as a team. I wouldn’t count them out either, seems like people have been doing that for a while now. Plus, they’ve got two titles to defend next year.
“It still doesn’t feel real.” senior Will Mizerany said.
Well, it’s pretty real. For the first time in school history, the Homewood Patriots are State Champions.