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Following Bronson's district semi-final win over Oak Hall, top seeded Hawthorne polished off fourth seeded host Lafayette Mayo for the final matchup Saturday.
Unfortunately for the Eagles, the Hornets hadn't lost anything since their most recent meeting three weeks ago, won by Hawthorne. The Hornets won the district championship 71-61 in double overtime with the help of sensational shooting by Jimmy Johnson and a war of attrition that saw the Eagles lose the invaluable Kelby Barber with just under two minutes to go in the fourth quarter.
Bronson ran up a fast 9-2 lead at the start of the game before Hawthorne started to dig in. Marquis Hayes had a pair of buckets to start the recovery for the Hornets, but they only got as far as 9-6 as the quarter ended.
Hawthorne briefly forced a lead change shortly into the second quarter, as Johnson sank a three off a takeaway. Johnson was three of five outside the arc in the second, scoring nine of his game-high 32 points. However, the Eagles were up to the early challenge as C.J. King answered Johnson's three with his own, recovering the Bronson lead. He followed up with another three off a reversal by Jermey Mayes, to push the lead up to five.
Johnson again narrowed the gap with a deep bomb, but Terrance Dukes skidded into the lane for a quick basket to stay ahead. Barber added a pair of free throws just before the half ended to send the Eagles to the break with a healthy five-point lead.
Despite playing tough defense in the third, getting five points off takeaways, Bronson couldn't stay as far ahead of the Hornets as they wanted. James Rivers opened up with a three for the Eagles, and Dion Thomas swirled one from downtown on the next trip, but Hawthorne - mostly Johnson - shot three threes that quarter to Bronson's two.
Bronson pushed the lead to eight as Thomas spun into the lane and Rivers faked down low to feed King underneath, but with half a minute left in the third, Johnson's two big jumpers chewed the lead to 38-36.
The Hornets snagged the lead again less than three minutes into the fourth quarter, on a layup by Maurice Cook. Minutes later, with the Eagles trailing by a basket, Barber fouled out.
Without Barber, there was one less big body in the lane to help with Roderick Goggins, the Hornets' rebounder and shot-blocker. Nonetheless, the Eagles dug deep. King drove in for a bucket, then Rivers and Thomas went to the line, getting five of six between them to tie the game at 49. King seized the rebound at the other end and forced the game into overtime.
Bronson struggled in the first OT as Johnson again went wild. The Eagles went to the line four times but only sank three shots. With Bronson down 55-52 and 20 seconds left, Rivers, off-balance, tried for a three but was short. He hustled back on defense and stole the ball, racing for the arc and pulling up for the rainbow J, just as the buzzer rang - double OT.
Hawthorne had lost Goggins in the first OT, and a foul by Anthony James in the second OT sent Thomas to the line and James to the bench as well. Thomas made both free throws, then he and Dukes had a pair of drives to the basket. In the meantime, however, Hayes, Johnson, Tevin Avritte and Edward Ray got to the line and made 10 consecutive free throws. Dukes and King, who sent them to the line, fouled out for Bronson after a mighty effort.
Beckham said it hurt to lose Barber in the fourth.
"We lost a good offensive player," he said. "We could have used him in overtime - he's our best free throw shooter."
Beckham said he was pleased with the Eagles' effort on the night.
"I'm real proud of the kids," he said. "They played their hearts out and did some really good things. They didn't ever give up - it's just a shame things didn't go our way."
Hawthorne coach Greg Bowie credited Bronson as an opponent in Hawthorne's improvement in their upwardly-mobile season.
"I think we have a pretty tough district," he said. "Coach Beckham is arguably one of the best coaches in the state of Florida and it's been good for us to play against them."
Bowie said the Hornets' strength is in their long bench.
"We go 10 or 11 deep," he said. "When two of our starters fouled out, those guys really stepped up."
Following Jacksonville Arlington Country Day's District 6 2A win over Providence, the Eagles will travel to Arlington (or their delegated host gym) on Thursday, Feb. 14 at 7 p.m. for the regional quarterfinal.
Bronson: C.J. King, 16; James Rivers, 13; Kelby Barber, 12; Terrance Dukes, 12