Final Four: Trojans headed to state championship after outlasting Ramsay

Published 7:31 pm Wednesday, March 1, 2023

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For just the second time in school history, the Charles Henderson Trojans (24-5) are headed to a state championship after defeating the Ramsay Rams (26-6) by a score of 61-60 in a thrilling Class 5A Boys Basketball State Semifinals.

It’s the first time CHHS has ever made it to the 5A State Championship and the first time the Trojans have made it to a state title since the AHSAA altered its tournament format in 1994.

“I’m just proud of these young men,” Trojan Coach Tim Fayson said after the game. “To come in against this type of team, and this caliber of player, (and win) I’m super proud of them.”

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The Trojans jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first quarter and quickly swelled the lead to 7-3 when Mario Davenport buried a jumper with 3:24 left in the period. Ramsay ended the period on a 5-2 run to cut the Charles Henderson lead to 9-8 going into the second quarter.

Charles Henderson opened the second quarter on a 7-2 run to go up 16-9 with 6:16 left in the half but Ramsay refused to go away and was able to cut the lead to 18-14 with 4:55 left in the second quarter. The two sides traded shots until Ramsay cut the Trojan lead to 24-20 with 3:11 left.

Ramsay cut the lead to 25-24 with 1:35 left in the half but Austin Cross buried a three and then stole a Ramsay pass and dished an assist to Tyler Carlton to extend the Trojan lead to 30-24 with 45 seconds left. The Trojans were able to hold on to a 30-25 lead at halftime after a Ramsay free throw.

The Trojans held Ramsay to just 28 percent from the field in the first half and forced 11 turnovers, while winning the rebound battel 20-18.

Jayden Spearman knocked down a three to open the second half and then Tyler Carlton hit back-to-back layups to extend the Trojan lead to 37-25 with 6:17 left in the third quarter. Ramsay knocked down a layup but Mario Davenport answered to stretch Charles Henderson’s lead to 39-27 with 4:35 left in the third.

After the two sides traded baskets, Ramsay went on an 8-0 run to cut the CHHS lead to 41-37 with 2:59 left in the third. The Rams further cut the lead to 43-41 with 40 seconds left but Tyler Carlton hit a layup just before the buzzer to stretch the Trojan lead to 45-41 going into the fourth quarter.

Jywon Boyd knocked down a three to open up the fourth and the Trojans were able to stretch their lead back out to 11 points midway through the period. Ramsay was able to chip away at the lead and cut it to 52-47 with 4:21 left but Cross answered with a three to extend the lead to 55-47.

Ramsay cut the lead to 55-51 but Bray Jones stole an inbounds pass and knocked down a layup to stretch the Trojan lead to 57-51 with 2:14 left. Ramsay was able to cut the Charles Henderson lead again to 59-55 with 50 seconds left and then stole the inbounds pass but the Ram player traveled.

Ramsay was forced to foul to try and conserve time but Charles Henderson missed four straight free throws and Ramsay cut the lead to 59-57 with 21.6 seconds left.

Cross hit a pair of free throws to stretch the lead to 61-59 but Ramsay answered right back with a layup to cut the lead back down to 61-59 with 7.9 seconds left. Officials ruled a Trojan out of bounds on the inbounds attempt and then CHHS was called for a foul.

Ramsay knocked down 1-of-2 free throws to cut the lead to 61-60 but the Trojans were able to avoid the Rams attempt to foul in the final seconds and secured the win.

“It was a little too close for comfort,” Cross said. “I should have made my free throws but we toughed it out.”

Cross led CHHS with 13 points and four rebounds, while both Tyler Carlton and Mario Davenport scored 11 points each. Carlton also grabbed 12 rebounds and dished three assists, while Davenport earned six rebounds and three steals. Boyd chipped in with 10 points, 10 rebounds and three steals, while Jayden Spearman had nine points, eight rebounds and two blocks.

Many of Charles Henderson’s football players were a part of the state title game this past season in which the Trojans lost to Ramsay. One of those players, Boyd, couldn’t wait to get another shot at the Rams.

“It feels great to beat Ramsay. It feels very great,” Boyd said with a big smile. “I’ve been thinking about this game for the longest. Right after we lost (to Ramsay), I knew they were good in basketball and hoped we would play them somewhere. They got one up on us in the championship game (in football) but we’re coming for one now.”

Cross was playing in a very different Final Four at this time last year, as a member of Pike Liberal Arts in the AISA Final Four.

“It’s a huge difference,” Cross emphasized. “The teams were still good last year but you can obviously tell the difference. We were playing in Montgomery and there definitely wasn’t that many people in the stands. It was crazy and I’m very proud of it.”

Fayson was a member of the last Charles Henderson team to make it to a state championship game in 1987, before the AHSAA’s move to its current tournament format. That game and that team is still very much with him and the Trojan team.

“I was a sophomore on that team. We lost at the buzzer to Hayes High School,” Fayson recalled. “I’ve also lost a couple of teammates (from that team). We honored them last season and everything that I’ve built since I started coaching has been for them.

“It’s been on their spirit, that jersey hangs in our locker room. (The team) has taken on that persona and they want to do it from the program and everyone that came before them. It means a lot.”

As celebratory as the Trojans are following the win, they know there is still work to be done.

“There’s only one thing to do now,” Fayson flatly said. “I kid them all the time that I’m the only one that’s made it to a championship game. I tell them until they win a championship, I’m still going to talk trash.

“There is only one thing to do now and that’s the goal, to seal the deal. It starts tomorrow, though. It’s about being the best we can be tomorrow. Then, the next day, the next hour, the next minute, be the best we can be and Saturday will take care of itself.

The Trojans will play Valley in the Class 5A State Championship at Legacy Arena in Birmingham on Saturday at 10:45 a.m.