It’s been a boys basketball season full of craziness, but one consistency has held true: the domination of Hilton Head Island’s Seahawks.
In the region championship game, Will McCracken torched James Island for 27 points, including a title-sealing monster dunk, and Hilton Head used its ferocious defensive intensity to defeat James Island 61-46 on Friday, capturing the Region 7-4A championship and their first region crown since 2005.
“I think it was our defense,” McCracken said. “Our main goal was to stop [Bailey Wiseman]. He’s a great player, so we had to shut him down. I think we did that. And then we had to move the ball around, give everyone shots, and I think that got everybody open.”
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The ‘Hawks used a flaming hot start behind the arc to grab the early advantage, as McCracken drained a pair of threes with a Sam Summa find from Jaylen Sneed sandwiched in between to score the first eight points of the championship game.
Hilton Head thrived on its relentless defensive pressure, troubling the Trojans in the paint and turning the stellar defense into a lethal transition offense. The explosive Sneed snatched away a loose ball and took it to the hole before scoring again on a powerful drive and finish. Then Summa worked his magic in the paint, using his reliable post play to nail a tricky floater before swishing a baseline jumper to extend the lead to nine.
The Trojans cut into the deficit at the quarter’s end as Jaden Scott converted a crafty layup over McCracken, but the UNCW-bound star answered right back, using his gifted athleticism to tap the ball off the rim and in. Both squads continued to trade layups, but Hilton Head’s defense made the Trojans work for every shot and opportunity to get to the line. The visitors couldn’t do it consistently enough, and a string of missed 3-pointers kept them distanced from a rally.
The powerful twosome of Summa and Sneed continued to feast in the paint, powering past the defense for layups and earning trips to the foul line. Hilton Head’s defense was nearly unbeatable in the first half, but a couple of offensive lapses kept it just a 25-16 game at halftime.
The ‘Hawks wasted no time getting rolling after the break, as the home team extended the cushion with an 8-2 opening run sparked by the squad’s standout defensive effort. Summa raced down the floor anticipating a McCracken feed, and the future UCLA tight end converted the layup.
Then the Will McCracken show really took off. The senior juked a defender before dropping in a floater, and then the undisputed region player of the year showed off his deep range, calmly knocking in another 3-pointer to balloon the lead to 16. Hilton Head’s bench joined in the scoring spree, as Zac Morris and Karyce Campbell splashed treys of their own to cap off a 19-point third and take a massive 21-point lead into the final period.
It seemed like Hilton Head would cruise the rest of the way, but this thing suddenly got tense midway through the fourth quarter. The ‘Hawks led by as many as 24, but James Island wouldn’t quit. The visitors took advantage of a side on cruise control, scoring a trio of buckets in a flurry off a pair of Seahawk unforced errors. Then the Trojans finally found their stroke from beyond the arc, as senior guard Cohen Gaskins ignited late to drain three straight triples, scoring 11 straight James Island points to trim the lead to just 11.
When the championship game is on the line, the stars rise to that next level. McCracken found something extra, storming to the rim and throwing down a monster dagger-dunk, blowing the roof off of the Nest and effectively sealing the region championship.
“I just saw an open lane, I jumped, and I felt like I was flying,” McCracken said. “I got up there, and I just wanted to put it down, so I did.”
Then Sneed did the final honors, punishing the Trojans with a two-handed slam to punctuate the memorable night and put the finishing touches on an unthinkable three-game sweep over preseason Class 4A No. 3 James Island.
McCracken was electric from start to finish, dropping in 27 points to lead the squad. Summa delivered a strong 12, and Sneed added nine. The Seahawks did a tremendous job again on Wiseman, holding the Trojans’ leading scorer to 11 points while Gaskins paced his team with 22, including 13 in the final quarter alone.
It’s been a special season for the Seahawks in a year unlike any other. Now the regular season and tournament champions of Region 7-4A, the ‘Hawks (13-2, 9-0) will get their shot at ultimate revenge in the SCHSL 4A opening round, hosting a North Myrtle Beach squad that ended their season a year ago in their own house.
They’ve made quite a statement with an undefeated region run, and now one goal remains: bringing home a state championship to Dunk Island.
By Wes Kerr / Photos by Justin Jarrett