By PATRICK CASEY
The South Walton Seahawks boys basketball team grabbed a spot in the Class A playoffs by finishing as the runner-up to West Gadsden on Saturday night as they fell to the Panthers 69-41 in the District 4 championship game played at Blountstown High School.
South Walton(14-14) earned a playoff berth the previous night with a 41-38 victory over Panama City Bozeman in a semi-final contest after defeating Liberty County 73-42 in an opening round contest on Feb. 7.
South Walton had little trouble in defeating the Bulldogs for the third time this season as the Seahawks raced out to a 47-25 lead at halftime and never looked back. Senior guard Edward Howard scored most of his 21 points in the first half and Bish Waldrop contributed most of his 14 points in the second half to pace the scoring.
Against Bozeman, the Seahawks were involved in a nip-and-tuck battle that saw freshman Paxton Dixon make some critical free throws in the final quarter to help the Walton County squad pull out the victory. Dixon scored 10 points with senior Shafer Martin adding 11 as South Walton got a solid defensive effort in earning their second win in three tries against the Bucks(15-12).
West Gadsden won the finale as they finished the district slate with a perfect 14-0 mark as their speed helped to create 23 turnovers on the night. The Panthers proved to be a very athletic team that blocked shots, grabbed rebounds and finished opportunities to improve to 26-3 overall and claim the District 4 championship.
West Gadsden saw 10 different players score a basket in the contest and pushed the game to 58-23 with 3:23 left in the third quarter to trigger a running clock the rest of the way.
Willie Holmes had 12 points with Brandon Shingles scoring 11 as West Gadsden jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the first two minutes of the game and led 38-14 at intermission.
South Walton got 15 points from Paxton Dixon and 12 from Shafer Martin but little else as the Panthers trapping defense caused a multitude of ball-handling errors.
Team Notes: The Seahawks will be making just their second appearance in the state playoffs in boys basketball in school history when they travel to Graceville (15-12) to face a Tigers squad that upset Cottondale in the District 3 final in Ponce de Leon on Feb. 21. The Seahawks lone previous playoff appearance ended in a 55-32 loss at Marianna at the end of the 2008-09 season. A win by the Seahawks would likely send the squad to West Gadsden for a fourth game with the Panthers unless Cottondale pulls the upset. John Davies is in his fifth season at the school with a record of 57-78. Shafer Martin has scored 902 points in 80 career games for a scoring average of 11.3 points per game. The Seahawks are 0-4 versus Graceville in school history after being in the same district the past two seasons.