Santo Nina waited and watched from the bench as the weeks went by and the season continued.
But when he returned from an October shoulder injury sustained during football season and found his place, the Glenn Hills boys basketball team got back a missing piece to a state title contender.
Nina and the Spartans marched on in the Class AAAA state tournament on Tuesday, beating Eagle’s Landing 71-51 at home to advance to the state quarterfinals.
Nina, the football team’s quarterback, finally returned during the region schedule of the basketball season.
Now he’s a key part of a state quar-terfinalist, scoring 10 points Tuesday – one of four Spartans to reach double figures. The group effort pushed Glenn Hills (25-4) into a Thursday trip to Westover for a spot in the semifinals.
“I just wanted to come back and fit back in with the chemistry. I didn’t want to mess it up,” Nina said. “I wanted to pick us up and elevate us even more.”
A deep and talented Glenn Hills team didn’t struggle for many stretches Tuesday – it never trailed and it outscored the defending state champions in each quarter.
The Spartans were consistent on offense, making 10 3-pointers, with Aubrey McRae accounting for five. He scored 23 points to help the Region 3-AAAA Tournament victors extend what was a nine-point halftime lead to 20 in the fourth quarter.
Earlier in the game, Glenn Hills answered every Eagle’s Landing push. Whenever it seemed like trouble was coming, the Spartans answered.
But Glenn Hills saved its best response until the end of the second quarter. With the Spartans up 26-25 after six consecutive Eagle’s Landing points, McRae drilled a pair of 3-pointers and Zi Cook added another field goal soon after.
Later, Eagle’s Landing cut the gap to three in the third quarter, but Glenn Hills had too many weapons.
“It’s good to make it to this point, but now that we made it, we got to keep on pushing,” Spartans coach Travis McRae said.