Randolph-Clay’s Cornelius Bennett scores a layup against Stewart County in the Region 1-A title game Saturday night at Seminole County High School. (Staff Photo: Tim Morse)
DONALSONVILLE — Cornelius Bennett had no idea who the elderly gentleman was who visited Randolph-Clay’s gymnasium during a basketball practice this week.
Coach Michael Hoffpauir didn’t either.
But one thing the man told the Red Devils was that when they played with focus and intensity, they were going to be hard to beat.
He was serious. And Randolph-Clay took him seriously.
After surging ahead of Stewart County early in the third quarter Saturday night in the Region 1-A championship game at Seminole County High School, the Red Devils stayed focused and took a convincing 57-50 victory to earn the region title in front of a capacity crowd.
“That man sort of caught us off guard this week,” Hoffpauir said. “But it was good to see someone in the community who had played before step in and help us. He told us there were parts of our game that we lost our focus and intensity.”
The Red Devils (22-6) took their friend’s words to heart.
Hoffpauir said it showed in Friday night’s 73-70 win over Calhoun County.
For a team that lost three of four during the last week of the season, Randolph-Clay picked the best time of the year to play perhaps its three most complete games of the year.
“Our coach told us to stay focused the whole night,” said Bennett, who finished with seven points. “We worked hard and defense was the key. It showed (Saturday).”
It was also sweet revenge for the Red Devils, who had lost by a bucket to Stewart County on Feb. 3. The Royal Knights helped start Randolph-Clay’s late-season slide.
Hoffpauir said the skid may have been a blessing in disguise because it put things in perspective for his club.
“We were somewhat a victim of our own success,” he said. “But we worked through adversity, matured and started good team building. We regrouped and came out on top.”
Marquin Jones led the way with 14 points, while Herald Super 6er Gary McCrae finished with nine. He seemed to put the exclamation point on the victory with a thunderous dunk with less than a minute left.
Hoffpauir was especially pleased with his team’s resiliency. They trailed 18-12 at the end of the first, then slowly worked themselves back into the contest.
The Red Devils won’t know their seeding in the Class A public school state tournament until the other seven Class A regions complete their tournaments next week. Then the state will publish its final power rankings, which will seed the 16 state tourney teams.
Bennett doesn’t care where Randolph-Clay ends up. He just wants them to continue playing like they did on Saturday.
“We’ve got to stay focused,” he said. “Like that older man said, if we can keep our intensity and focus up, we can’t be beat. That showed (Saturday).”