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Bobcats return to Birmingham and a shot at the state title

R.C. Hatch departed for Birmingham on Monday to begin the last leg of its quest for a record-tying fourth consecutive state title.

The irony of the situation is that this is not the typical R.C. Hatch team that earned the 10 championship banners that hang from the walls in Uniontown.

Before this year, the team had lost eight games over a three-year span. This one finished 17-12, including an unthinkable six home losses. As the losses mounted, most sports pundits throughout the state wrote the Bobcats off.

“This team has gone through a whole lot this past season. They have endured a lot of adversity, and gone through a lot of obstacles,” said R.C. Hatch coach Homer Davis. “I’m very proud of them. This team doesn’t have the talent of the last three, but it’s got the heart and determination.”

Davis recognized that this would be a rebuilding season. The Bobcats lost four starters from last year’s title team, including current Auburn freshman Frankie Sullivan. The lone returning starter was Trenton Tucker, who suffered an injury in the Bobcats’ fourth game, an 82-44 win over Sunshine.

Tucker was out for the next five weeks, and the Bobcats missed his presence in close losses to Francis Marion, Greene County and J.F. Shields. But Davis saw those games as a learning experience for his team.

“The last three teams didn’t have many close games,” said Davis. “They didn’t have many grind-out games.”

Tucker returned in time to lead the Bobcats to a road win at Francis Marion on Jan. 2, but home losses to Greene County, Keith and Greensboro followed. R.C. Hatch finished the regular season 12-12, but that was not the Bobcats’ focus. In high school basketball — especially with every team guaranteed at least a shot at the postseason — the regular season is relevant only to seeding.

And since postseason play began, R.C. Hatch is 5-0.

“Everybody peaked at the right time. They just started forgetting about ‘me’ and ‘I’ and they started doing the ‘we’ things as a team,” said Davis. “The guys just believe. We were in a rebuilding stage, but the guys played enough good competition to know that they could play with anybody.”

With a win over Tanner today and another win on Thursday, the Bobcats will be the second team in state history to win four consecutive state titles. Francis Marion was the first to pull off the feat by finishing on top from 1988-91.

“(Tanner) has a real good program,” said Davis. “If they weren’t good they wouldn’t be up here. We’re going to take care of business.”