There’s a saying this time of year, “Survive and advance.”
That’s exactly what the Hawthorne boys basketball team has done in its last three postseason games, winning by a total margin of only six points.
But they’re still alive.
On Wednesday night at 6 p.m. at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland, the Hornets (11-4) will play Bradford (Starke) in the Class 1A state semifinals with a berth in the state championship game awaiting.
“Getting to Lakeland is hopefully one of the goals that every team has at the beginning of the season,” Hawthorne coach Greg Bowie said. “It’s never a guarantee, so to get there is always a humbling experience.”
Bowie, who has been the head coach for 15 seasons, is making his sixth trip to Lakeland.
After coming up short against Chipley in the 2012 and 2015 title games and falling to West Gadsden in the 2017 Class 1A Final, Bowie finally won his first state title in 2020 against Hilliard.
“A lot of things have to go well for you to be playing in the final four,” Bowie said. “I’ve been blessed to win a title and I’ve been fortunate enough to be in the final four several times. This is a testament to the type of program we run and the hardworking student-athletes that come through Hawthorne. It’s big for our community.”
The area was loaded with talent this season as evidenced by the current Class 1A MaxPreps rankings.
Newberry, which spent time at No. 1, is ranked fifth, followed by No. 6 Trenton, defending state champion Wildwood at No. 7, and No. 9 Williston.
The top-ranked Hornets, who won their 11th straight district title this year, had to beat Trenton, Wildwood (District 8 championship game), and Williston in the postseason to advance to Lakeland.
Freshman C.J. Ingram, who scored a game-high 20 points in a 49-46 win against Williston a Class 1A-Region 4 semifinal, made two free throws with six seconds to play in double overtime to beat Trenton, 40-39, in the Region 4 Final, helping the Hornets advance to Wednesday’s state semifinal.
Now they get the fourth-ranked Tornadoes (14-10), who defeated Madison County, 64-54, in the Region 3 Final.
Three players scored in double figures for Bradford, led by Jontez Williams with 18 points and 11 rebounds. The senior, who was a first team All Area selection in football, averages 9.7 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.
Junior Shayne Davis had 16 points, four rebounds, and two assists against the Cowboys. He leads the team with 10.7 points per game in 17 games played.
Sophomore Dae’Jon “6ixx” Shanks added 15 points, four assists, and five rebounds in the region final.
“Bradford is a physical team,” Bowie said. “Everyone on the floor is a threat to score for them. We’ll have to match their physicality and rebound well to advance.”
Ingram, who has football offers from Troy University and Campbell University, leads the team averaging 14.7 points and 5.7 assists per game and is second with 4.9 rebounds per game. Junior D.J. Slater is next in scoring (10.3 points per game) and is second with 3.0 assists per game.
Junior Jailen Ruth, who has multiple football offers and is one of six players on the team who played in the football state championship game this past December, averages 9.3 points and leads the team with 6.4 rebounds per game. He had 10 points and 10 rebounds in the region final win against the Tigers.
Bradford (14-10), which dropped down from Class 4A, split with Hawthorne last season.
“I think one of the keys to our success this year has been our ability to not let outside influences detour us from our goal, our ability to adjust and stay aggressive on both sides of the floor,” Bradford coach Sampson Jackson said.
The game will tip at 6 p.m. We’ll have coverage of the game on 106.9 FM “I am Country” and audio online at IamCountryRadio.com beginning at 5:30 p.m.
Each team has won six in a row. The winner will advance to Friday night’s Class 1A state championship game and will play the winner of the Paxton-Malone game.
Wednesday, March 2 – Class 1A State Semifinals
Hawthorne vs. Bradford (Starke), 6 p.m.
Paxton vs. Malone, 8 p.m.
Friday, March 4 – Class 1A state championship game
Semifinal winners, 7 p.m.