Eric Brown Jr. thinks daily about Arcadia’s championship game loss in which the Hornets surrendered a 20-point, third-quarter lead to Country Day.
Every time Brown opens his phone, the 60-54 overtime score glows back at him on his lock screen, an aching reminder of a missed opportunity to win the school’s first-ever boys state basketball title.
The No. 1 seed Hornets (27-3) can ease that ache Wednesday when they see Country Day (23-7) again, except this time it’s in the Class 1A semifinals in Lake Charles for the right at another state title.
“What’s going through our head is revenge,” Brown said. “Last year, they took something from us … we had it in our hands and they straight took it.
“It stays with me every day. Fifty-four to sixty – we lost. It’s motivation. We’ve got to get back there, we’ve got to get it. We were a young team, but we’re more experienced now. When you get up on people, you can’t let off the gas. Don’t get complacent.”
The Hornets constructed a 39-19 lead midway through the third quarter before the Cajuns stormed all the way back to force overtime and eventually win.
Coach Marcus Jackson said he remembers his team arguing with each other as Country Day was making its comeback, but now the Hornets are more mature.
“Last year a lot of people didn’t expect us to be there, and even we were just looking to make a good run with a young team,” said Jackson, who is in his third season in Arcadia after coaching at Athens. “This year, we’re using that game to fuel them … and they’re ready for it.
“That’s one of the games that if they could play over like in the backyard, that’s the one they would do.”
Antwine Baker is just one of two seniors on a still young Hornets’ squad, and he said the team is viewing the Country Day matchup like it was archrival Grambling.
Baker added he has “flashbacks” of the championship loss, but this is a wiser Arcadia team this season.
“Everybody has grown, and we’ve learned to play together more than we did last year,” Baker said. “We’re getting better and better each practice, and the coaches push us and we push us each other.”
Arcadia returns every player from that runner-up team, and a more experienced Hornets’ squad has won 16 of its last 17 games.
After a regular season that included two wins against Class 2A No. 2 Lakeview, three wins against 1A No. 7 Grambling and a 2-1 mark against 2A Homer, the Hornets have beaten No. 32 St. Martin’s Episcopal, No. 16 Ascension Episcopal and No. 8 Hamilton Christian by an average of 39 points in the playoffs.
The Hornets swarm defensively with man pressure, holding opponents to just 30 points per game in the playoffs while creating a significant portion of their offense with pressure.
“With our man-to-man defense and on-ball pressure, the coaches really stress help-side defense,” said sophomore Elanceo Richardson. “It would mean a lot to get this title. We’re trying to make history.”
For sophomore Travious Fielding, he said he learned to finish games with intensity.
“It hurt us a lot, and it made us work harder in weight lifting and running,” Fleming said. “In this rematch, we can’t have a slip up like we did last year.
“We learned that we have to play at all times. We’ve got to keep pounding.”
Danquarian Fields, one of six sophomores, echoed that sentiment, adding that the Hornets learned to be more competitive for the entire game.
The Hornets added an important piece to this year’s team in 6-foot-5 center Tracy Hampton. Hampton, who started at Arcadia but moved to South Carolina with his family before last season, is back in town this season and ready to help the Hornets win a title.
“My parents moved out to South Carolina for their jobs, but now we’re back and everybody has been really helpful in my transition back to the team,” Hampton said. “It means a lot to be a part of this because I grew up here, and now to come back and win a title would be special.”