By PATRICK CASEY
The third meeting between the South Walton girls basketball team and the Baker Gators went a lot like the first two. The Lady Seahawks won yet again.
Led by 23 points from senior center Savannah Slade and 19 points from junior forward Allee Coble, the Seahawks built a 25-point lead in the second half, then survived a three-point barrage by the Lady Gators over the final 16 minutes of play to capture the school’s fifth district championship in the sport with a 58-43 victory in the title game that was played in Chipley on Thursday night.
South Walton led just 12-10 after the first quarter as both teams struggled to find open shots against the aggressive defense employed by both sides. Baker hit 4-of-14 shots from the field in the opening quarter, getting enough rebounds to get second and third chances that did not pay off for points.
The Seahawks took over the game in the second quarter as the squad pitched a shutout for eight minutes, posting a 12-0 scoring run that ended with Coble’s improbable, desperation three-point shot from deep behind the key as time expired for a 24-10 lead.
The numbers proved the Seahawks dominance as they hit 9-of-17 shots from the field in the first half to just 4-of-28 for Baker.
A 7-3 run to start the third quarter put the Seahawks ahead 31-13 with 5:23 left in that quarter as Slade scored nine of her 23 points in the first eight minutes after halftime. The 18-point lead would hold to the end of the period as the Gators entered the fourth quarter down 44-26.
Baker coach Kathy Combest saw her squad pick up the defensive intensity while connecting on seven shots from behind the three-point line in the second half, closing to within 10 points late in the game only to have the Seahawks make enough free throws, 13-of-21 on the night, to hold on for their 20th win against seven losses and a District 3 championship.
The Seahawks were 20-of-33 from the field on the night and a sterling 11-of-16 over the final two quarters of play.
“We were crisp with our passing and shot selection tonight,” coach Kevin Craig said after the game. “Our defense set the stage with a shutout in the second quarter. We work on being in the right place on defense and knowing how to help out each other if we get out of position.”
Izzy Cain led the Gators with nine points as no Gators player was able to reach double figures though six players scored at least six points as Baker fell to 18-5 overall with three of their losses coming at the hands of the Seahawks. Baker finished the game 16-of-60 from the field and just 3-of-4 at the charity stripe.
South Walton will host Bozeman on Thursday night at 7 p.m. while Baker will travel to District 4 champion West Gadsden for a 6 p.m. tip. Don’t count out a fourth meeting between the two District 3 foes if they both win opening round games as they could meet again in South Walton on Feb. 14 with a trip to the Final Four on the line.
Team Notes: Craig is in his 13th season at South Walton and holds a record of 248-115 in that time. He is in his 35th year overall of coaching and holds a record of 757-288 in that span. South Walton also won district titles at the end of the 2016, 2013, 2012 and 2006 seasons. The Lady Seahawks are making their seventh trip into the state playoffs and are 8-5 in six previous trips, including winning the Class A state championship at the end of the 2012-13 season with a 25-6 record. The Seahawks would have to travel to West Gadsden on Feb. 14 if the District 4 champions defeat Baker, but would host the Gators in a fourth and final meeting if Baker posts a road win.
By PATRICK CASEY