Playing with top players Andrew Reddick and Mark Bradwell on the bench in foul trouble the West Gadsden guys on the floor defensed their way to a 17-2 spurt that carried the Panthers to a 55-38 FHSAA 1-A semi-final win over Hawthorne in the boys’ basketball Final Four Tournament in Lakeland Tuesday morning.
The game's first half was pretty much a helter-skelter affair with the teams leaving the floor with West Gadsden ahead 20-18.
The Hornets’ Mickel Crawford nailed a pair of early third quarter three-pointers helping Hawthorne to a 31-30 lead with two minutes to go in the period.
That's when both Reddick and Bradwell had to go to the sidelines, and that's when the Panthers went to work not allowing Hawthorne to score a point for the next five minutes of the game and managing to get points out of caused turnovers to take command of the game.
Jimmy Hester and Xavier Bush scored 13 of those points between them with Hester getting back-to-back steals and lay-ups in a 30-second span to give West Gadsden space.
Those two weren't the only ones contributing to the defense.
Sammy Carter, Barry Corker, Jr., Russell Harrison and Dedric Streeter all played parts in the run.
Bush led the game-scoring with 15 points and Hester scored 12. Hester's 7 rebounds topped the board work for the Panthers who went in to the Wednesday night 6:00 PM finals with a 24-6 record. They met Wildwood, a 69-62 overtime winner over Graceville.
"I'm so proud of this bunch," Panthers coach Andrew Moten said in his post game press conference. "When they had to they went out and busted their butts."
Moten got quite emotional when explaining the "One 4 All, All 4 Moody" tee-shirts the team wore in warm ups. "This is something we're doing to honor a close friend of ours, William Moody," Moten said. Moody was a basketball icon in Gadsden County who passed away last summer. "We all just wish he was here," stated Moten.