By PATRICK CASEY
For the Walton Braves, last week saw the Braves post a pair of road wins before dropping a crucial district contest at home to Pensacola Catholic on Friday night.
The week started well as Walton defeated Samson for the second time this season 72-62 as James Towery scored 25 points to help Walton improve to 13-8 on the season.
Two days later Walton got off to a 21-10 lead at Freeport, then fell behind in the second half as the Bulldogs came roaring back, thanks to 21 points from Alex Newkirk. His long three-point shots helped the Bulldogs to a 27-13 scoring advantage over the middle two quarters of play.
Walton awoke in the fourth period as Steven McKenzie and Paul McClure connected on three-point shots to tie the game at 50-50 in the final minute of play. After a Freeport turnover, Walton forward Tarrell Bramlet converted a key basket in the lane while drawing a foul. Bramlet stroked the free throw for a 53-50 lead with 16 seconds left and the Braves survived two last-ditch shots to tie the game to escape with a three-point win.
Heath Morgan helped the Braves efforts early as he scored 10 points while grabbing seven rebounds with teammate James Towery scoring all 13 of his points in the first half of play to help Walton split the season series at one game apiece.
The nightmare began early against Pensacola Catholic as the Crusaders drilled seven three-point shots in the first half while Walton made only two shots from the floor in the first 16 minutes of play as Catholic jumped to a 27-5 halftime lead that Walton would never be able to recover from.
The Braves fought valiantly in the second half as they closed the gap to 11 points in the fourth quarter, but still could not make enough shots to mount a series threat as the Crusaders locked up the top seed in the upcoming district tournament with a 50-34 victory.
Bryant Cobb led the Crusaders with 15 points while Tarrell Bramlet matched him with 15 for Walton. The Crusaders didn’t make a three-point shot in the second half but their seven in the first half outpaced Walton two for the entire game.
Walton’s 34 point total was the least the Braves had scored against the Crusaders since at least 1988-89, and matched their second lowest output this season.
Walton (14-9) finishes with a very tough pair of opponents as the Braves host Marianna before traveling to Paxton on Friday night for their regular season finale.
Game Notes: Walton leads the series with Freeport 13-10 dating back to the 1988-89 season. Walton had not won a boys basketball game at Freeport since January 10, 2000. The Braves series with Pensacola Catholic has been one of the most competitive over the last 20 years with the Crusaders claiming a 19-18 edge after their win on Friday night, dating back to the 1988-89 season. Jerry Hester is in his 7th season as Walton’s head coach and holds a 113-71 record at the school. The Braves will face South Walton in the boys district semi-final on Friday, February 13, at 6 p.m. in Northview with a playoff berth on the line.