BARNWELL, S.C. -- Their eyes, smiles and skills give no indication of where they've been. There are no physical scars, but this trio of Barnwell basketball players have been through the mine fields and survived.
Hunter Mathias. Jason Randal. Nick Williams. These are the men that were mere boys four years ago. They persevered through losing not only to make themselves better, but to resurrect the Warhorses basketball program.
As freshmen, Barnwell's front-court trio were forced into the starting lineup when several players were lost to legal and academic troubles. Williams, Randal and Mathias suffered through two losing seasons before last year's 15-13 mark.
Their strength and resilience has paid off. The Warhorses are 23-3 entering tonight's Region 6-AA second-round tournament game against . No one knows better than coach Chip Atkins the sacrifices these seniors made to achieve success.
"These kids got thrown to the wolves." Atkins said. "If these kids could have blended in we would've won a lot more games. They had to learn the hard way. It's been rewarding to watch how they've blossomed."
This year's senior class has a modest 61-49 high-school record, but after two years they were 23-33. Williams, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound forward, is averaging 17.1 points and 7.3 rebounds per game this season.
Both Williams and Randal have surpassed the 1,000 point plateau in their careers. Williams attributes the Warhorses' success this season to their trials and tribulations over the past four years.
"We struggled the first year, now we have three solid seniors to lead the team," Williams said.
Randal, who averages 13.8 points and 7.1 rebounds, said thoughts of quitting never entered his mind when losses mounted with no apparent relief in sight.
"We were young but we held our ground," Randal said. "We did what we could with what we had. We had to take the good with the bad."
Mathias is the quiet one. The 6-foot-2, 175-pound forward provides the outside shooting touch for Barnwell. The senior shoots at a 47 percent clip and is averaging 11.8 points this season.
The poker-faced forward said the trio were committed to riding out the storm of futility. Their commitment resulted in Barnwell's first region title since 1995.
"We were thrown to the wolves," Mathias said. "We knew we had to keep playing until it got better. This has been the season we've been waiting for."
Atkins, who picked up his 530th career victory last Friday, said depth in addition to his three seniors has been instrumental in turning the program around. Their efforts haven't gone unnoticed.
Williams was selected to play in the North-South All-star game April 10 at Winthrop University. Randal has signed to play baseball with The Citadel, which also is trying to convince him to play basketball.
"On any given night any of these guys can be a hero," Atkins said.
What once seemed only a dream may come to reality. Barnwell has never won a state AA championship but the terrific trio has the Warhorses poised for a title run. Mathias described the four-year starters as a family while Randal acknowledged the satisfaction of finally rising to the elite level.
"It's good to see three guys like us get a shot," Randal said.
Jimmy DeButts covers high school sports for The Augusta Chronicle. He can be reached at (706) 823-3216.
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