It was almost like déjà vu for Hawthorne’s C.J. Ingram.
Last year against Trenton in the region final, Ingram made two free throws with six seconds to play in double overtime to send the Hornets to the state semifinals.
On Tuesday night, with another final four berth on the line, the sophomore hit two free throws with one second to play as the No. 2 seed Hornets defeated top seed Newberry, 43-41, on the road in the Class 1A-Region 3 Final.
“I was in this same situation last year and I’ve been in this position many more times this year,” Ingram said. “So, it really wasn’t a distraction, it was just taking my time and relaxing.”
The win sends the Hornets (11-6) back to the state semifinals for the second straight year and for the third time in the past four years.
“It feels great,” said Hawthorne coach Greg Bowie. “Especially to win on the road in a hostile environment against a really, really good Newberry team. We expected a dog fight but what we didn’t want to do is fall behind like we did in the district championship game. I just didn’t want to get out to a slow start in this game.”
It also denied Newberry (22-7) its first final four in program history.
“We came up short,” Newberry coach Patrick Green said. “We wanted to make history and we were just one possession short. But the guys did a tremendous job. And as I reminded them in the locker room, I would be willing to bet not too many teams in the history of Newberry came that close to the final four.”
It was a reversal of fortunes for Hawthorne, which trailed Newberry by 10 points at the half of their District 6 title game just 10 days ago.
This time the Hornets closed the half with a 7-0 run and led 25-16 at intermission.
“Not letting them get a hot start like they did in the district championship,” Ingram said about the key to victory. “Instead of fighting back, wheels up, that just gave us momentum and then they couldn’t shoot as much as they could last game, so we just took advantage of that.”
Bowie said defense was the difference.
“To hold Newberry to 16 points in the first half, a lot of good teams can’t hold Newberry to that because they shoot the ball extremely well, and they can drive, and then they had the low post game going tonight with (Logan) McCloud, so they can score from all three levels,” he said. “So, to defend them like that in the first half is a testament to how our guys worked this week in practice.”
McCloud only had one point in the first half, but he scored 13 points in the second half and nearly led the Panthers to victory.
“Tremendous,” Green said of his sophomore. “He’s a big, strong football guy, similar to what Hawthorne has, and he has some skills. He can get to the rim and we just wanted to keep feeding him.”
It was a game of runs in the second half.
McCloud had back-to-back baskets for a 6-0 run to start the third quarter to get the Panthers within three at 25-22.
Then, Ingram had a 5-0 run of his own spanning the end of the third and the start of the fourth quarter.
His reverse layup with seven seconds left in the third quarter gave Hawthorne a 34-29 lead heading into the final quarter, and his 3-pointer just 18 seconds into the fourth gave the Hornets a 37-29 lead.
But Newberry’s Mason Smith (10 points) answered with a 3-pointer of his own to quickly make it a 5-point game, 37-32.
The Panthers were eventually able to tie the game at 39-apiece on a 5-0 run as McCloud hit two free throws with 3:30 remaining.
A little over two minutes later, McCloud made both free throws to tie the game again, 41-41, with 1:10 to play.
And after a turnover on their next possession, Hawthorne almost gifted the Panthers a chance to win, or at least force overtime.
With no shot clock, Newberry intended to play for the final shot.
However, senior Mike Moore (10 points) turned the ball over and committed a foul with 3.9 seconds to play.
Hawthorne’s Leland Johnson missed the front end of a one-and-one, but Ingram corralled the offensive rebound and got fouled in the paint, which led to the game-winner.
Ingram, who finished with a game-high 15 points and just missed a double-double with nine rebounds, now has a chance to follow up a football state title with a basketball championship.
“Words cannot describe,” Ingram said. “That’s been a main goal for our girls as well so we’re trying to be the first team to win all three.”
Teammate Isaac Taplis, who made the buzzer-beater against Newberry in the district title game, scored all 12 of his points in the first half.
“It feels good,” he said. “We did this last year but last year we didn’t get a championship so I’m hoping we get a championship this year.”
Hawthorne will play in the Class 1A state semifinals next Wednesday, March 1, against either Franklin County or Chipley.
The winner could play Williston for the state title. The Red Devils defeated Wildwood on the road, 66-63, in a Region 4 Final.
Tuesday, Feb. 21 (Results)
Class 6A-Region 1
2 Gainesville 47, 2 Oakleaf (Orange Park) 42
Class 5A-Region 1
3 Columbia (Lake City) 69, 2 Booker T. Washington (Pensacola) 55
Class 4A-Region 2
1 Santa Fe (Alachua) 60, 5 Cocoa 38
Class 1A-Region 3
2 Hawthorne 43, 1 Newberry 41
Class 1A-Region 4
2 Williston 66, 1 Wildwood 63