By PATRICK CASEY
The Walton Braves got 25 points from senior Taliah Moore and 17 from sophomore Krista McQueen as they defeated Tallahassee Godby 67-49 on Thursday night in an opening round Class 4A state playoff contest.
Walton, playing in front of an energized home crowd, got revenge on the Cougars for a 68-41 defeat that ended the Braves season in February of 2012 as the host squad forced 34 turnovers from the visiting team and dominated the boards to advance to a second round contest in Tallahassee against Florida High on Feb. 12.
Walton pulled out to a 19-12 lead after one quarter of play as the Cougars rolled up several fouls while trying to stop the Braves’ interior attack. Sophomore forward Deja Tucker made six straight free throws in the first quarter as she scored eight of her 14 points in the opening frame.
The Braves forced 18 turnovers in the first half but Godby got 15 points from sophomore Charisma Johnson as the tall forward hit all but two shots from the floor for the visiting team while making six free throws in the first half to keep the Leon County squad close. Johnson’s 15 points was most of the offense as Walton led 28-22 at the half, suffering some poor shooting from the floor to hold down their advantage.
The Braves used the free throw line to pull out to a 42-34 lead after three quarters of play as Walton hit 7-of-8 from the charity stripe during that quarter. Walton junior guard Caretha Paul scored seven of her 10 points in the game in that quarter to counter junior Brittney Delva’s 10 points for the Cougars. Delva, who finished the night with 18 points, did all her damage in the second half as Johnson managed only one point after the break due to foul trouble and poor shooting.
Taliah Moore finished off any hope of a comeback by the visiting team as she scored 15 of her 25 points over the final eight minutes with the Braves hitting 32-of-72 shots from the floor as they got off 20 more shots due to their solid rebounding. The Braves also helped themselves at the free throw line by hitting 19-of-29 shots.
Godby hit only 16-of-52 shots from the field and had foul trouble for several of their players throughout the second half.
Walton senior Sierra Contreras had a good night on the offensive boards as her hard work led to several second chance baskets in the first half of play. Though she fouled out without scoring a point in the second half, she was key in the Braves ability to get second and third shots.
Walton (21-7) earned their first win in the playoffs in their new gymnasium while posting their 12th consecutive victory. Coach Jerry Hester was very pleased with his squad’s effort after the game. “We jumped out on them and didn’t let them get too many easy baskets early. They made some outside shots in the first half but cooled off in the second. We made free throws and Krista (McQueen) and Taliah (Moore) locked it down underneath in the second half.”
Team Notes: Walton is now 18-17 in state playoff games. Walton’s 21 wins are the most for the girls program since a 23-5 mark in 1994-95. The Lady Braves are shooting 63 percent from the free throw line, the best free throw percentage in the last 21 seasons. Walton finished as state runner-up in 1982 and 1996 and lost in overtime to Belle Glade in a state semi-final in 1993 in what may have been the best girls basketball team in the school’s history. Taliah Moore has scored 1,623 points in her varsity career for the Lady Braves. Walton is 11-2 at home this season.