By REID TUCKER
Walton outpaced visiting Freeport after a close halftime lead to claim a 74-64 win against the Bulldogs.
Beyond the usual county rivalry between the two squads, the matchup was interesting for other reasons, as the Braves (6-9) started off the season slowly, losing several games by seven points or less, before regaining some steam in recent weeks. Freeport (11-7), on the other hand, started off strong but recently ran into stiffer opposition, including losing to the towering Holmes County squad. The loss to Walton caps off a four-game losing streak for the Bulldogs, despite solid play all around.
The Braves can thank Ken Randolf’s sterling 26-point performance for carrying most of the load in the Jan. 10 contest, though DeShun Tucker and Amos Williams made big contributions of their own with 15 points and 11 points, respectively, to their credits. Randolph was all but unstoppable from the lane, scoring mostly on offensive rebounds and layups earned by breaking through Freeport’s press. The top three Walton players were opposed by a trio of players from Freeport (11-7) who rose to the occasion of facing their county rival at their court. Caleb Piasecki, who lead the Bulldogs with 20 points, Collin Myrick, who scored 9 of his 18 points in the third quarter (all via 3-pointers), and Austin Woodard, who went 4-for-6 from the stripe to score 14 points.
The never-say-die attitude of the Freeport squad paid off, as the Bulldogs cut a 16-7 deficit to a more manageable one of 16-11 with less than a minute to go in the first quarter thanks to a one-two combination of field goals from Piasecki and Caleb King, who went on to score six points total on the night. However, Walton’s Tray Williams tipped in an errant shot by Randolph at the buzzer to give the Braves the 18-11 edge at the end of the period.
The second quarter was a challenging one for Freeport, though neither side shot exceptionally well from the floor, with Freeport outscoring Walton 12-11 for 29-23 Braves lead at the half. Walton’s shooters were just under .500 from the floor, plus a free throw from Randolf to give them the edge. Freeport, on the other hand went 5-for-18 with the first of those baskets not coming until halfway through the period, though two swift shots, near the perimeter and back of it, from Myrick kept the Bulldogs in the fight.
The third quarter could not have played out differently, as both teams went on scoring sprees, though Walton came out slightly ahead at 26-23 in the period for a not-insubstantial 55-47 lead going into the fourth quarter. Nearly every man on the Braves’ roster got in on the act too, though it was Tray Williams who led with five points after some grapples for the ball with Freeport’s Myrick. As for Myrick, he posted three back-to-back shots from the arc, though by this time the momentum had begun to swing in the home team’s favor.
The Braves turned up the wick and quickly went up by 10 over Freeport near the start of the final quarter and it never got any closer. Woodard and Piasecki scored twice each from the inside but had some trouble making their free-throws as the game became more physical. Myrick also missed on two shots from the stripe about halfway in after he and Tray Williams scrapped for the ball once again. Walton, however, seemed to cruise through the last quarter, as Randolph scored on three breakaway layups and Tucker scored from both the top of the key and on the inside, while Amos Williams scored on his own set of layups, the latter an and-1.
With 2:00 showing, the Braves were up 67-57. Both teams scored exactly seven points apiece in the remaining time, so it was Walton that took the 10-point non-district win.