Day three at the Steel City Invitational, a “first class” championship
By Alec Lewis
Day three of the Steel City Invitational capped off 28 games and furthered the trend of intense match-ups that was set in the quarterfinals. Three of the four games from the quarterfinals came down to the final possession, and the same held true with Monday night’s championship game between J.O. Johnson and Faith Academy. Eight games were played during the day, all in Samford’s Pete Hanna Center, and the culmination of efforts from the players, coaches, event staff, Samford athletics staff and fans alike ultimately rounded out what many called a “first class” and “grade-A” tournament.
As the clock struck 8 p.m. on Monday night, with Auburn Head Men’s Basketball Coach Bruce Pearl and Alabama Assistant Men’s Basketball Coach Antoine Pettway both in the arena, the J.O. Johnson Jaguars and the Faith Academy Rams took the floor to battle for the Steel City Invitational title. Opening up the game with a layup, J.O. Johnson’s Justin Hopkins seemed to be the difference maker early for the Jaguars. While the teams traded buckets throughout the second quarter, J.O. Johnson led Faith Academy at halftime, 29-25.
To open the second half, J.O. Johnson extended their lead thanks to a three-point jumper from John Petty and an and-1 by Hopkins early in the 4th quarter. It was then that the Rams of Faith Academy seemed in trouble, down 44-35. That was until Faith’s Rod Williams caught fire on the free throw line and brought his team to the lead going 6-6 from the line with only seconds remaining. Trailing by one, J.O. Johnson missed a last-second heave that left them with second place losing, 53-52.
“This was a great victory for us. This was the best tournament I’ve ever been to,” said Faith Academy point guard Rod Williams.
Rams Coach John Price also said, “This is a first class tournament any way you look at it. It feels like the state tournament and to come up here and win it is a great step for our program.”
Seven-time state championship winner and J.O. Johnson coach Jack Doss added, “Birmingham feels like home so I like coaching here because it’s a preview of the state championship. There was great competition, and I couldn’t ask for any more.”
While the day ended with one of the best games of the tournament, several great games took place throughout the day on Monday. Bessemer City versus Fairfield was the first game on a slate of matchups to take the floor on this championship Monday. City guard, Micah Fuller, scored 20 points and garnered the eye of many college coaches as his play warranted a 68-53 victory.
The second game was a matchup of two of last year’s Steel City contenders in Parker and Wenonah. The Dragons came out hot and their veteran Kameron Hardrick was able to score 11 points but it just wasn’t enough as their team fell to the Thundering Herd, 60-49.
Two of the arguable favorites for this year’s Invitational, Ramsay and Hoover, took the floor for the third game of the day. The Rams jumped out to an early lead in the first half with 14 points from Albert Luke, but in the second half the game was all Bucs. Hoover’s Dylan Smith, Texas Pan-American commit, scored 11 in the final quarter to seal a solid win, 61-56.
Mountain Brook and Tuscaloosa County followed Hoover’s victory. The Spartans, who came out hot thanks to a 5-10 shooting performance from Jared Henderson in the first half, grabbed an early lead and never let go as they turned out a 54-41 victory.
Clay-Chalkville then took the court to face the Patriots of Midfield. A highlight of the day came from the Midfield coaches, who dressed the part in matching championship-themed attire. In a matchup of several stellar guards, Midfield’s Jermaine Turner and Clay’s Hasan Abdullah traded buckets in periods of the game and the two guards went head to head coming down the stretch. While Abdullah did everything he could, the Cougars ultimately lost, 52-51.
“We take pride in our program and how we look as a coaching staff,” said Midfield’s Coach Barber about their sweater vest outfits. “It was planned out and everything we do dressing wise is planned, but on the tournament, I thought it was a really good tournament and a really good event. I thought it was a good setup from the beginning to the end and even to the Samford game and the hosts were top-notch and I think we showed that Midfield basketball belongs.”
Bibb County and Grissom took the floor following Midfield’s victory. Grissom’s J.J. Kaplan and Jacquez Johnson got the Tigers off to a quick start as they led 23-18 at halftime. Ultimately, Johnson helped propel Grissom to victory, 48-34.
“Everything that was off the basketball court was awesome,” said Grissom Coach Jeff Schertz of the 2014 Steel City Invitational. “The organization, the people; from the minute we got down here we felt important.”
With the 3rd place game up for grabs, Cullman standout Lawson Schaffer and Alabama signee, Dazon Ingram of Theodore, came into their final Steel City Invitational game looking to leave their last impressions. After hitting two threes early, Cullman’s Brontae Harris looked to have a chance to duplicate his first-round success. However, Dazon Ingram’s ability to get to the rim was enough to help Theodore surpass the Bearcats. Ingram once again came up three assists short of a triple-double scoring 29 points, rebounding 20 balls and assisting 7 times to secure his team third place, 90-72.
“It’s a first class tournament,” said Cullman Coach Bobby Meyer postgame. Theodore coach, Phillip Roebling, added, “The campus here and the setting is beautiful. I’d tell anybody that would have an opportunity to come to [Samford], to come here. I’ve been coaching 29 years and this was the biggest tournament I have ever coached in.”
As the Second Annual Steel City Invitational came to a close, it was Faith Academy that ultimately stole the show and took home the rim. In a holiday tournament that has quickly become the premier tournament for Alabama high school basketball, it is only fitting to say that all of the match-ups, talent, arena and spectators fell nothing short of first class.