By PATRICK CASEY
What a week to be a Freeport Bulldogs boys basketball fan!
Freeport closed the 2011-12 regular season with a 27-hour spree of fast-paced basketball that saw the team defeat South Walton 100-98 in one of the highest scoring contests in Walton County history, then get a basket from junior Caleb King as time expired off of a missed three-point attempt by Collin Myrick to stun the Paxton Bobcats 78-77.
Against the Seahawks, Freeport trailed 20-19 after the first quarter only to pull away for a 45-39 halftime lead as Myrick lit up their rivals to the south with 20 first half points. Teammate Austin Woodard picked up the barrage in the second half as he scored 28 of his 41 points over the final 16 minutes of the contest as the Bulldogs needed every point to get the win. Woodard, who had nine assists, also had five steals, the last a knock-away from a Seahawks dribbler that wound up in Myrick’s hands to deny the Seahawks a chance to tie or win the game on their final possession with just under six seconds left in the game.
The Seahawks battled relentlessly as Edward Howard scored 27 points before fouling out in the final seconds of the contest. Senior Shafer Martin added 16 points with Bish Waldrop providing 13, but freshman Paxton Dixon was the star on the night as he scored 28 points with several deep shots from behind the arc to keep South Walton within striking distance until time expired.
Both teams shot better than 50 percent from the floor as the game resembled a track meet for most of the night. Freeport handled the pace well despite dressing only eight players but had to scramble to get Clayton Jones into his first game since December when Caleb Piasecki and Caleb King both fouled out in the third quarter. Jones, who had a key basket in the fourth quarter, also provided helpful rebounds while spelling Cody Smith late in the game, the team’s only other reserve eligible to play.
Freeport hit 20-of-31 shots in the second half of play and 37-of-65 on the night from the field to keep the scorekeeper busy for the home team. South Walton countered with 23-of-39 shooting from the field over the final 16 minutes as they posted a 36-of-71 mark for the entire contest.
Fans for both sides created a raucous, playoff-like atmosphere that was aided by Freeport’s holding of Senior Night activities before the game. Myrick finished the contest with 27 points and sophomore Gabe Moore turned in an outstanding performance with 24 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists and two steals.
Woodard, who would tune up the Bobcats for 38 points on Friday night, scored 79 points over that 27-hour period in one of the more impressive scoring performances over a two-game period.
Good shooting was also on display in the regular season finale for both teams on Friday night when Paxton traveled to Freeport to meet the Bulldogs in the second meeting of the year between the two squads.
Paxton’s Dustin Geoghagan hit eight of his ten three-point shots in the first half to spark the visiting team to a 47-38 halftime lead.
Woodard countered with 22 points of his own in the first half with Myrick drilling three shots from long distance himself to keep Freeport close.
Chad Zessin did most of the scoring in the third quarter for Paxton as he had nine of his 28 points during the eight-minute period to keep the Bobcats ahead by a 58-53 margin.
The Bulldogs took advantage of 22 Paxton turnovers and some sharp shooting in the fourth quarter to close the margin to one in the final seconds of play as Woodard and Gabe Moore kept the offense chugging.
Zessin, who is a very good free throw shooter for a center, missed the front end of a one-and-one with Freeport grabbing the rebound to set up the final possession of the game. After a timeout by coach David Burke, Myrick launched a three-point shot with six seconds left that missed, got deflected into the arms of Caleb King who scooped up the ball and laid it in from the right side of the goal as time expired to earn the Bulldogs a cardiac win.
Paxton, which defeated Freeport 73-68 (minus Collin Myrick who was in New York City that weekend) on Dec. 8, deserved a better fate as the Bobcats hit 10-of-14 free throws on the night but struggled to find much offense out of anyone other than Geoghagan and Zessin.
Myrick finished the night with 21 points while Moore added nine with the home team hitting 8-of-9 free throws in the contest.
“That was a pretty good week of basketball,” Freeport coach David Burke said after the Paxton win. “We could have run the table if we would have made our free throws against Walton on Tuesday night.”
The Bulldogs (17-10) will host the District 2, Class 2A boys basketball tournament this week and will face Holmes County at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 10 if they defeat Northview in an opening round contest on Feb. 7.
Paxton(19-6) awaits a semi-final against the winner of the Central-Poplar Springs opening round contest in Poplar Springs in the District 1, Class A tournament on Friday night.