By PATRICK CASEY and REID TUCKER
The Walton Braves basketball team made county history in 2012 by finishing fourth at the 18th Annual Hilton Sandestin Beach Basketball Blowout tournament, which wrapped on New Year’s Eve.
The Braves’ fourth-place showing at the tournament, played from Dec. 27 to Dec. 31 at Freeport High School, may have been just outside a podium finish but it is nevertheless the high water mark for any Walton County boys’ team in the tournament’s history. Walton (10-3) blazed a trail through the first two days of the tournament, defeating Glencoe and Jacksonville before coming up short against eventual second-place finisher Maclay on Dec. 29. The Braves fell to the Toros of Alabama’s Spanish Fort High, a perennial top performer at the post-Christmas tourney, on Monday night by a score of 69-63, ending their run but setting a program record in the process.
That final game was something of a back-and-forth affair, as Spanish Fort battled to steal the win from the DeFuniak Springs squad. Walton trailed the Alabama team 12-10 after the first quarter and 30-27 at the half but the Braves rallied to hold a 62-56 advantage with four minutes left in the game only to be undone by turnovers and cold shooting in the stretch run. The Braves didn’t hang onto the eight-point lead though, allowing the Toros to run up a 13-1 scoring deficit in the final minutes to get the win.
Walton had three players in double figures. Shaq Huffman contributed 14 points and DeShun Tucker 13, while Quentine Stuckey added 10. Spanish Fort guard Reagan Eubanks, a senior, had 24 points and his smooth outside shooting paved the way for the Toros’ victory.
Things went Walton’s way on the first two days of the tournament, when the Braves posted a 50-42 comeback win against Glencoe and broke away from Jacksonville in the second half to win 57-43. Glencoe led at the outset, but Walton, led by Tucker’s 17 points, clawed back from a 26-16 halftime deficit to take a narrow 37-34 lead at the end of three and never looked back, taking advantage of compromised ball security on the part of the Yellow Jackets in the fourth. The Braves got points out of nearly their whole bench in the defense-heavy game against Jacksonville, though they took over in the second half after tying the game 23-all with 6:20 to go in Q3, with Tucker cramming down three dunks in the fourth period to seal the deal.
As good as the first two days were, the third day was not a great one for the Braves, who were done in by tournament runner-up Maclay when their shooting from the floor took a dive in the fourth quarter. Walton held a narrow 24-22 lead at the intermission and the score knotted at 37-all at the end of the third quarter, but the Braves hit just 1-of-12 shots from the floor in the fourth to Maclay’s 6-of-9, giving up the win to the Marauders. Maclay’s JT Escobar was all-3s in the contest, scoring 20 points mostly from beyond the arch, and Tucker was once again Walton’s high-score man though he scored his 18 points mainly in the paint.
The tournament didn’t go as well for Freeport’s and Paxton’s boys, who went two-and-out and 1-2, respectively.
The Bulldogs faced Alabama’s Bayside Academy in the last game played on the evening of the 27th. Freeport came up short, falling to the Admirals by a final score of 67-23. Caleb King posted a team-high 11 points in the contest, which saw Bayside run up a 44-12 lead at halftime to start a running clock in the second.
The Bulldogs’ adversity continued into the next day, as they fell by a similar 69-24 margin to White Plains High School in the 1:00 matchup. Freeport looked to give the Wildcats a run for their money early on, as the score was a close 16-14 in the Alabama team’s favor. However, the White Plains defense put Freeport on lockdown while the offense opened up on a huge 28-4 spree in the second quarter, leading to the Bulldogs’ exit from the tournament. King and Ryder Newman each scored seven points against White Plains….
Read the full story in the Jan. 3, 2013 edition of the Herald Breeze.