Squadron makes history with championship bid

Published 3:01 pm Thursday, February 29, 2024

By Haley Mitchell Godwin

In a hard-fought defensive battle Monday night, the Highland Home Flying Squadron emerged victorious against the Lafayette Bulldogs in the 2024 Class 2A state semifinal, securing a 56-51 win and their place in the Class 2A state title game. The Flying Squadron will face Mars Hill Bible Friday at 10:45 a.m. at Birmingham’s BJCC Legacy Arena where they will vie for the coveted Blue Map Trophy.

Monday’s starting lineup for Highland Home featured Tyler Chaney, Brice McKenzie, C.J. May, T.J. Washington and J.J. Faulk. Faulk set the tone for the game early on when he sank two free throws just over three minutes into the first period.

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Throughout the game, both teams fought fiercely, battling tooth and nail on every possession. However, the first quarter proved challenging for the Bulldogs, missing their first 12 shot attempts and ending the quarter trailing 8-0.

The Flying Squadron’s dominance continued in the second period, as Greg Tate’s layup and McKenzie’s three-pointer propelled them to a 13-0 lead within the first minute. By halftime, Highland Home held a 21-11 advantage.
Lafayette staged a comeback attempt during the last half of the game. However, their efforts were not enough to take the lead and at the end of the third quarter, the score was 39-24.

With 7.23 left in the fourth, Lafayette’s Key’Lun Powell launched a long, successful three, cutting the Squadron’s lead to 11 and bringing the fans to their feet. Highland Home then took control of the ball, with Faulk making a sneak attack behind the defense, slam dunking for two with 6.28 left in the game.

With 2.48 to go in the game, Powell hit a big 3, and the score changed to 51-42 before Lafayette’s VaDerrian Story got his fifth foul of the game, sending a strong part of the Bulldog’s defense to the bench.

After a major collision with 2.07 remaining, Story stepped to the free-throw line, cutting the lead down to 8 points. With 1.38 left in the game, Lafayette took control of the ball, and with just under a minute and a half on the clock, Vines laid it in, leaving HHS ahead by only six points.

Lafayettemade a late push in the fourth quarter, cutting the deficit to just four points in the closing seconds. Highland Home responded with skilled ball handling, three-pointers, crucial defensive plays and strategic timeouts called by head coach Justin Cope. With 0.45 left, a foul called against Lafayette sent Faulk to the line, and the score became 53-45 followed by a quick answer on the other end made the score 53-47.

A Squadron steal by Chaney and a dunk by Faulk brought the score to 55-47 just before a foul called against Chaney sent the Bulldogs to the line. However, it was too little, too late for Lafayette and the Flying Squadron came out on top with a final score of 56-51, securing their spot in the championship game.

Highland Home was led by J.J. Faulk. Faulk, the 6-foot-3 junior forward, produced a double-double, finishing with a game-high 24 points and 10 rebounds. He also added 2 assists and 2 blocks while shooting 7-of-11 from the field and 10-of-13 at the foul line.

Mckenzie put 16 points on the board for the Squadron with 5 rebounds, on 5-of-10 shooting from 3-point range. Chaney and Tate contributed 8 points each, combining for 10 boards and 8 assists. Washington and CJ Mays added a combined 11 rebounds.

In postgame interviews, HHS players credited their defensive intensity and teamwork for the hard-fought win.

“We had a slow start, but once we found our rhythm, we were able to execute on both ends of the court,” said McKenzie. “I got hot, and we started scoring from everywhere. It was momentum for our whole team.”

Faulk echoed his teammate’s sentiments, emphasizing the team’s dedication to defense throughout the season.

“It was a good feeling to hold them to zero (in the first period),” Faulk said. “That shows how much we work on defense and shows our dedication.”

In his second year as HHS head coach, Cope reflected on the significance of the achievement.

“It’s special,” Cope said. “Been here several times as an assistant but now as a Head Coach, it’s a testament to all the wonderful coaches and players I have been able to be around and learn from in the past. I’m grateful for everyone who has made this possible for these players. Back to work to get the job finished Friday morning.”

Highland Home, considered the underdog in the competition, made a remarkable journey to the finals, surpassing expectations and coming out on top against the number two-ranked team in the state, something HHS athletic director Adrian Daniels is very proud of.

“I am tremendously proud of our young men,” Daniels said. “The dedication and progress they have shown this season are truly remarkable. With focus and determination, they have the potential to claim the State Title. Before the game, I distributed cards that our second graders made for them. These words of encouragement, filled with good luck wishes, meant a lot to the team. The smiles on their faces said it all — they were truly touched by the support from the fans in the stands. Please come out Friday morning and support our boys in the State Title game. These boys are making history for Highland Home High School.”

Making their first appearance in the Final Four in 2022 under the guidance of Jonny Mitchell, Highland Home advanced to the championship game for the first time in the school’s history, set to face No. 1 Mars Hill Bible in the Class 2A title game at 10:45 a.m., Friday at the BJCC’s Legacy Arena.

All semifinal games are being live-streamed over the NFHS Network’s subscriber-based platform and live on the AHSAA TV Network.

In addition to the facility rental fee charged to the AHSAA, the BJCC charges $1 per ticket, bringing the total cost of a ticket purchased, at the gate, to $13. Fans are encouraged to arrive early at Birmingham’s BJCC Legacy Arena to avoid long delays at the gate’s box office. For information on parking, traffic, live streaming or TV please go to www.ahsaa.com.