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Westside-Butler IV: State Championship Edition

Published: Mar. 7, 2022 at 10:57 PM EST
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - In an arena more than 100 miles from Augusta, two schools separated by 11.6 miles will compete for the boys’ 2A state championship on Thursday.

Butler and Westside are set to meet for the fourth time this season. The Bulldogs won the first two, but the Patriots won round three in the region championship. It was the first time Westside had beaten Butler under head coach Jerry Hunter.

But both teams said throw those previous matchups out the window.

“We respect them. They have a great team,” said Westside junior Khalon Hudson. “We know the last one is in the past and it doesn’t matter no more. So we’re just going into this game knowing they’re going to come at us so we have to go back at them with the same intensity.”

“We can’t go in there thinking that we got them,” said Butler senior Kenny Glanton. “They can show us like what happened last time. They can beat us so we have to come in focused and locked in.”

Butler comes into the game the more experienced team, with a starting lineup of nearly all seniors. They also carry a chip on their shoulder. In the region championship against Westside, star guard Kedar Bodie went down with a hairline fracture in his food, ending his season.

Instead of folding, the Bulldogs rallied together.

“It was more so doing it for him. Everybody stepping up their game,” said Butler senior Chance Finklin. “We might have missed a piece but everybody’s stepping up.”

“You never know what event may happen in life, and you have to be willing to adjust and make the necessary changes to succeed,” said Butler head coach Cervantes Boddy.

The Patriots also come in with a chip on their shoulder, carrying the underdog mentality against the team who’s had their number for years.

“We lost the first two games to Butler,” said Westside sophomore Demarco Middleton. “When we lost those two games, everybody was labeling us as soft. It just made us work harder.”

With a strong junior class, many thought this Westside team needed another year before being serious contenders. But this group has proven age doesn’t matter.

The junior class as stepped up as leaders both on and off the floor. Hudson and fellow juniors Jalexs Ewing and Amauri Tillman have stepped up as leaders both on and off the floor. Ewing said even though they won the region championship, they still feel like underdogs from losing their previous eight games versus Butler.

With the two schools being so close, the game can feel a little more personal. The players know each other. The fans know each other. The coaches know each other. Boddy and Westside coach Jerry Hunter are both Paine College alumni, and both played basketball there. The two are good friends and talk regularly, mostly about things outside of basketball.

“I’ve known his kids a while. I’ve actually gotten to coach some of his kids,” said Boddy. “It’s a pretty cool deal.”

“He’s a very, very competitive guy,” said Hunter. “And that’s what we both have in common.”

That competition has fueled both coaches to success in the local basketball scene. Boddy is coaching his second state championship, leading the Bulldogs to the title game in his first season in 2011. Butler lost to Columbia 56-37.

“It’s such a horrible, painful memory,” said Boddy.

When asked if he expected this team to be here this year, he said he honestly didn’t.

“I’ve learned in this profession, it’s best to not have expectations,” Boddy said. “Just work hard and whatever happens happens.”

“Let the chips fall where they may.”

On the flip side, Hunter won his last state championship appearance as a coach, leading Laney to a 67-53 win over Manchester in 2012. He said he’s taken some of the same traits with Laney and applied them to Westside, but also weaved in new ones as the game and the players change over time.

“As a coach, you have to evolve. You have to learn the new way of things are happening,” he said. “Not necessarily saying tradition doesn’t work, but what happens when tradition doesn’t work?”

For one of these teams, tradition will be born on Thursday. With two teams who know each other so well, it adds another layer of competition to an already intense battle. And no matter what happens on Thursday, the boys’ 2A trophy is coming back to Augusta.

Both teams want to be the one to bring it home.

“Once you’re on the floor, it’s like you’ve never seen those guys before,” said Tillman. “All of the nerves and stuff, all of that goes away. You’re just out there ready to play. After the game, it doesn’t matter if it’s personal or not. The winners [will] be the winners and the losers [will] be the losers, but we’re all family at the end of the day.”

The Bulldogs and Patriots will play for the championship Thursday at 3:00 at the Macon Coliseum in Macon, GA.

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