Williston, Hawthorne vie for title game

Hawthorne's C.J. Ingram and Williston's Greg Maxwell will lead their respective teams in the Class 1A state semifinals on Wednesday and potentially a state championship matchup on Friday.
Photos by C.J. Gish

Right now, the Hawthorne athletics program has a lot of momentum on its side.

In December, the football team won the program’s first state title after back-to-back state championship appearances.

Last week, the girls basketball team won its second title in program history.

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That bodes well for the Hawthorne boys basketball team, which will play Chipley at 8 p.m. tonight at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland in the second 1A state semifinal.

Top seed Williston plays No. 4 seed Franklin County at 6 p.m. in the first Class 1A state semifinal.

Both state semifinals will be broadcast live on 106.9 FM “I am Country” and online at IamCountryRadio.com. If Williston and/or Hawthorne advanced to Friday’s title game, it will also be broadcast on local radio.

The No. 2 seed Hornets are back in the state semifinals following a 43-41 win at Newberry last Tuesday in the Class 1A-Region 3 Final.

Hawthorne's Leland Johnson averages 7.4 points per game this season.
Photo by C.J. Gish Hawthorne’s Leland Johnson averages 7.4 points per game this season.

C.J. Ingram, the son of Hawthorne football coach Cornelius Ingram, who is also the girls basketball coach, hit two free throws with one second left to send his team to the final four.

Six players who were on the state championship football team play for the Hawthorne boys basketball team, including Ingram, who was the school’s starting quarterback.

Ingram and the Hornets are getting pretty good at winning late.

Last year, Ingram made two free throws with six seconds to play in double overtime against Trenton in the region final.

Two weeks ago, Hawthorne won the district title on a buzzer-beater. It was the program’s 12th straight district title.

Hawthorne (11-6) has won six games this year by three points or less.

Ingram, who is also the nephew of Hawthorne boys basketball coach Greg Bowie, leads the Hornets with 21.3 points per game. The sophomore scored a season-high 34 points in a 51-49 win in January against 4A regional semifinalist North Marion (Citra).

Hawthorne didn’t start playing basketball until mid-December, but they still managed to get back to Lakeland, marking their fourth trip to the final four in the past seven years.

The 2020 state champions also posted wins this season against state playoff schools P.K. Yonge and Valdosta (GA), along with playoff wins against Hilliard and Newberry, whom they beat twice each this season.

Their opponent tonight, Chipley, defeated 1A-Region 1 top seed Jay, 63-52, in the region final.

The Tigers (20-6) and Hornets have met twice before, but it’s been eight years since their last meeting. The Tigers defeated the Hornets, 69-40, to win the 1A state title in 2015. They also defeated Hawthorne, 71-48, in the 2012 Class 1A state championship game.

This time they’ll meet for the right to play in the title game.

Junior Kyler Bryant (12.3 ppg) and sophomore Dakota Williams (12.0 ppg) lead the Tigers in scoring.

As a team, Chipley averages 58.9 points per game and allows 49.8 ppg, while Hawthorne averages 48.7 ppg and allows 47.2 ppg.

Williston's Kyler Lamb averages 13.4 points and 4.9 rebounds per game this season.
Photo by C.J. Gish Williston’s Kyler Lamb averages 13.4 points and 4.9 rebounds per game this season.

Williston has also beaten the big boys this season.

The Red Devils (23-7) swept Class 6A regional finalist Gainesville High and also defeated playoff teams 7A Alonso (Tampa) and Lovett (Atlanta, GA).

But to get to Lakeland, they had to beat perennial power and 2021 state champion Wildwood three times this season, including a 66-63 win on the road against the top seed in Region 4.

Greg Maxwell, the nephew of former Gator and Houston Rockets basketball player Vernon Maxwell, leads Williston in scoring and rebounds. The senior, who has scored over 1,100 points in his high school career, averages 19.1 ppg and 6.4 rpg.

Junior Kyler Lamb, who head coach Jim Ervin said is the “most versatile player I have seen on both ends of the court,” is next with 13.4 ppg and 4.9 rpg, while “Mr. Excitement,” Javon Brown averages 8.2 ppg and 5.3 rpg.

The Seahawks (20-7) defeated Cottondale, 46-41, in the Region 2 Final to advance.

They are led by senior Owen Poloronis (17.7 ppg and 3.2 assists), junior Ethan Kimbro (11.4 ppg and 6.3 rpg), and senior Jaidyn Rhodes (10.4 ppg).

Franklin County is averaging 60.7 ppg and allowing 50.1 ppg, while Williston is also averaging 60.7 ppg but they only allow 42.5 ppg.

Franklin County and Williston, which is making just its second final four in school history, are both seeking their first state title.

One of them will get that shot on Friday at 7 p.m. against either Hawthorne or Chipley in the Class 1A state championship game.

There’s been a new Class 1A state champion for four straight years. Only Hawthorne will have a chance to end that streak.

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