How the Hawthorne Hornets turned a rebuilding year into a state championship

The little town of Hawthorne is home to just over 1,500 residents and sits about 20 miles east of Gainesville near the intersection of SR-20 and US-301. On most days, it’s a quiet community in rural Alachua County, with very few breaking stories to talk about. But today, it’s not about population or proximity to a bigger city or directions or above the fold articles. Today, this weekend… and probably for a good while into the future, it’s about bragging rights. 

Today, Gainesville is a little town 20 miles west of Hawthorne – the home of a state championship basketball program.

Hawthorne High, a school with just over 300 students, completed its storybook season with a happy ending – coming from behind to defeat the Hilliard Red Flashes 42-38 in a thrilling 1-A State Final contest at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland.

The Hornets, as they have done all season, trailed 17-11 midway through the second quarter before cutting the lead to one (18-17) by halftime, and then went on a 9-2 run to lead 26-20 in the third quarter.

Hilliard responded in the final period and tied the game 38-38 with just over a minute to play, but it would be their last points of the contest. 

In the final minute, Hawthorne regained the lead when they were fouled twice, and two trips to the free-throw line netted two points while holding Hilliard scoreless.

Then, with a 40-38 lead and 20-seconds remaining, the Hornet defense forced a Hilliard turnover. Five seconds later, Dre Lawrence calmly sank two free throws that sealed the deal, giving Hawthorne a 42-38 which they held until the final buzzer sounded.

It was the second state championship for the Hornets, but their first in 33 years, and while the last 60 seconds of this game may have been a microcosm of the season, it hardly tells this unlikely story that ended with a state championship for Hawthorne.

 Despite the loss of nine seniors, including all five starters from last year’s team that finished with a 25-2 record, this year’s Hornets endured. In a season that should have been a major rebuilding project, Hawthorne reloaded with this inexperienced, yet talented roster and got off to a 17-2 start before losing to Eastside High 43-38 on January 25th. It would be the last time they tasted defeat all season, as they ran off eight straight victories.

So what will next year bring? 

It may be too early to speculate on that. Hawthorne will again lose over half of its roster when eight seniors graduate, but it seems likely that this little school with the can-do attitude will again make their presence known at the upper tier of Class 1-A Florida basketball.

Congratulations to the city of Hawthorne and to the Hawthorne High Hornets on a great season.

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