Two North Central Florida teams met in the 1A state semifinals on Wednesday evening at the FHSAA Boys Basketball State Championships in Lakeland, meaning only one would advance to the title game.
The result probably wasn’t what many expected, but it was a historic day for the Bradford Tornadoes, who defeated top-ranked Hawthorne, 55-35.
Bradford (15-10) gave up the first basket of the game to the Hornets and then never trailed again, and the Tornadoes blew through the Hornets to advance to their first boys basketball state championship game in school history.
Bradford will face Paxton at 7 p.m. on Friday in the championship game in Lakeland. Paxton advanced with a last-second 51-49 win over Malone in the other 1A semifinal.
The Tornadoes, playing in their first state semifinal since 1974, looked like the more experienced team rather than Hawthorne (11-5), who won the 1A state title in 2020 and has advanced to this round six times in 11 years under coach Greg Bowie.
After Jailen Ruth dunked for the first two points of the game for Hawthorne, Bradford went on a 14-2 run led by senior Shayne Davis, who scored eight of his game-high 17 points in the opening frame.
Bradford led 15-7 heading into the second quarter and held Hawthorne at bay in that period despite the Hornets closing to three points on a couple of occasions.
The Tornadoes led 29-20 at the halftime break as senior Amari Jones scored six of his eight points, including a three-pointer.
Bradford took control for good early in the second half as they went on an 8-0 run and extended its lead to 37-20. They led by as many as 20 in the second half as Hawthorne could never get anything going offensively.
Bradford led 41-25 at the end of three periods, and the closest the Hornets could get was 13 in the final period.
For Bradford head coach Sampson Jackson, who is also the school’s athletic director, it’s been a heady few weeks with a state championship in girls weightlifting and now a chance at a second state title in a short period of time.
“My first year as an AD and two state championship [appereances] in two weeks in two different sports, it’s exciting for me,” Jackson said. “But the credit has to go to the athletes, without them none of this would happen. I’m thankful for them and the hard work they put in.”
Bradford struggled through the first two months of the season, dealing with injuries as they didn’t have their full team until recently. In fact, they had a losing record late in the regular season until going on their current seven-game winning streak. Jackson says this is a special group.
“There was some roster stuff we dealt with this season and all kinds of adversity with health and numbers on the team,” Jackson said. “To see us do this now is kind of surreal we know this is quite an accomplishment and we are very thankful.”
Davis was the only player in double figures for either team with 17 points and also added seven rebounds. Chalil Cummings and Jones added eight points apiece and Dae’jon Shanks chipped in seven points and eight boards off the bench.
“We have had to deal with all these issues all season, and we knew we would eventually click,” Davis said. “We didn’t click at the beginning or the middle, we have clicked here at the end.”
The Tornadoes shot 44 percent for the game, holding Hawthorne to 34 percent shooting and outrebounding the Hornets 43-25, including 15-6 on the offensive boards.
Devin Ray led Hawthorne with 8 points, and DJ Slater added seven. Leading scorer freshman CJ Ingram managed only 4 points on 1-for-10 shooting, well below his average of nearly 15 points a game.
In recent action on Feb. 22, Hawthorne defeated Trenton in double overtime in the 1A-Region 4 Final and Starke Bradford took on Madison County on February 22 at Madison County High School. For a full recap, click here.
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