The road to the FPCA Highlanders’ sixth consecutive region championship was literally longer, and not just because they had to get on a bus and drive up I-16 to play the tournament at host Trinity Christian in Dublin.
This journey started last summer after tragically losing coach and mentor Ernie Walthour Jr. Shane Smith ended up taking the coaching job and the players, along with assistant coach David Linderman, understood the best way to honor and remember Ernie was to play the best basketball they could and be the best men they could.
“This being my first season, I knew coming in we could have a good year, but we have exceeded my expectations,” Smith said. “I’m happy for the kids. We dedicated our season to the late Ernie Walthour and we are determined to reach our goal which is a state championship.”
Smith was named Region AA coach of the year. Highlander players Ahmad Muhammad, Wallace Smith, Miguel Pineda and Domonique Kirkley, along with Lady Highlander Brooke Standard, were named to the All Region team.
FPCA hit a familiar foe in the first round of the GISA Region 2-AA tournament in Memorial Day. Memorial Day defeated FPCA in the Class AA GISA state championship last season.
This year, however, the Highlanders held off Memorial Day and despite strong surges by the Matadors, FPCA grabbed the 51-48 win to get into the championship game against Trinity.
Thursday’s win against Memorial Day was the third win this month against the Savannah school. Trinity had defeated Frederica Academy from St. Simon’s Island, 43-36.
“Anytime you have to play a team three times, it is a tough situation and having it be Memorial Day, the defending state champs, made it even harder. For one, they are really well coached, very athletic and scrappy. We knew we had to play hard to beat them,” Smith said.
The Highlanders took the Region 2 AA championship over Trinity, 53-42. Winning a sixth straight championship now puts the Highlanders on the road to another ring. FPCA is four games away from playing for a GISA AA state championship.
“Playing Trinity for the region championship was our third time, playing them as well for the second time in a week, but we were ready for them,” the coach said. “We felt very confident that they could not matchup with us and it showed early. We played very good man defense that turned the game early in the second quarter and we never looked back. Our plan was to have the game under control by half time.”
Miguel Pineda was the leading scorer with 18. Domonique Kirkley had 10, Wallace Smith 10, Michael Burnett 6, Ahman Muhammad 6, Richard Smith 2 and Fredrick Heaggans 1.
I’m still waiting on the updated scores to confirm who we will play in the first round of state which will be played Thursday,” Smith said.