Hilliard finishes year as state runner-up

  • The Flashes battle Hawthorne in the Class 1A state championship game March 6. The Hornets won.
    The Flashes battle Hawthorne in the Class 1A state championship game March 6. The Hornets won.
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A technical foul with less than a minute left on the clock sealed the Flashes’ fate March 6. They fell to Hawthorne 42-38 in the Class 1A state championship.

“When it’s 38-38 with 49 seconds left, you call a technical foul, no warning or nothing,” Coach Myron Saunders said, frustration in his voice. He later added, “I could understand if you hit him with a double foul, but a technical foul knowing they get to shoot twice and get the ball back …”

The referee called the foul on Jaylen Jordan after a Hawthorne player spoke to him and he responded. That foul gave the Hornets two foul shots and immediate possession of the ball after the shots. They made one of the shots to go up 39-38.

Hawthorne then took a timeout before Jacob Crews gained the ball for Hilliard, but a questionable Hornet steal followed by another foul on Hilliard led Hawthorne back to the line, adding another point. Crews was targeted throughout the night by the Hornets.

“The only reason the score was as close as it was is because the refs allowed them to push and pull on him,” Saunders said. “It’s a shame they reffed a game like that. I ain’t making excuses, though, we had the opportunity to win that.”

Saunders called for a timeout, then Tre Rush had control of the ball before Hawthorne stopped play with its own timeout. The referees called a defensive foul on Crews two seconds later and Hawthorne’s Dre Lawrence went to the line to add the Hornets’ final two points with 13 seconds left on the clock. Crews attempted a 3-point shot with 3 seconds left on the clock, but the buzzer quickly signaled Hilliard ended the season as state runner-up.

The game was close throughout the night, with Hilliard up 7-5 at the end of the first quarter and 18-17 at halftime, though the Flashes did lead by 7 points with 1:51 left in the half, but Hawthorne quickly rallied. The Hornets also received the bonus after the Flashes got into foul trouble, which is when a fouled team is awarded two free throws on non-shooting fouls regardless of whether the first shot is made.

Hawthorne took control of the game 1:35 into the third quarter and kept the lead until the Flashes tied the score with 3:15 left in the fourth. The Hornets had a 2-point edge before the score tied again with 52 seconds left, before the technical.

“Basically, they won the game with that call,” Saunders said.

He was speechless at the end of the game.

“For the first time in my four or five years of coaching them, I didn’t know what to say to them,” he said. “I let them feel their emotions and told them I love them.”

Hawthorne celebrated the school’s second state championship. The first came in 1987. Saunders said his team knew the Hornets’ playing style and was prepared to compete.

“We knew they play good defense. Coach (Greg) Bowie does a great job with the team,” he said. “They play good defense, and so do we.”

The teams tied on rebounds, each attaining 35. Hawthorne had more steals at 10-2. The Flashes led in blocking 9-2.

Crews led the Flashes’ scoring with 13 points while Shemar Melton had 12, Jelan Jones scored 8 and Rush earned 2. Jaylen Jordan was 3-for-4 at the line to add 3 points.

Hawthorne’s Torey Buie led the game with 20 points while Jeremiah James and Dre Lawrence each added 6, Thurman Mills and Key’shaun Williams each added 4 and Donavan Wright made a basket.

The Hornets’ win came just a week after the school’s girls basketball team captured its first state championship. The girls team is coached by Coach Bowie’s younger brother, Cornelius Ingrams. 

Friday night’s game was Hilliard’s first attempt at a state championship since 1979, when the team fell in the semifinal to Vernon 56-54. The Flashes avenged that loss March 4 with a 80-59 victory.

“They take a lot of threes and No. 2 (Darrell Powell) was their best player,” Saunders said. “We played them in the diamond and then played them in the box. We knew they were athletic and could shoot well and we packed it in on them.”

Crews dominated scoring with 29 points, including perfect 8-8 shooting at the line. Melton had 15 points while Jones and Rush each had 13, Jordan scored 5, Dillon Hbaba added 3 and Major Sharpe added two free throws.

The Flashes were ahead 14-13 at the end of the first quarter, 32-23 at the half and 52-45 at the end of the third, then pulled away in the fourth with 28 points to the Yellowjackets’ 14.

Saunders noted that the Flashes felt the hometown pride. The RP Funding Center’s stands had many Hilliard fans at both state games in Lakeland. More fans gathered at First Baptist Church Hilliard to watch the game on the big screens and even more gathered in private homes throughout Nassau County and even in other states to watch.

“The support from the community was overwhelming,” Saunders said.

Well wishes appeared throughout social media. Joe and Rebecca Hendrix told the team to keep their heads up.

“Great showing! You’re still Nassau’s champions. Twenty-three wins is hard to match. Remember that you represented Nassau County and the entire school district and everyone is proud of your accomplishments,” the Facebook user wrote. “I can foresee college scholarships ahead and, who knows, possibly a future in the NBA. Great job from Austin, Texas, class of 1979.”