By PATRICK CASEY
The Walton Lady Braves left no doubt that they were the best team in District 1 of Class 4A for the second consecutive season as they jumped out to a 13-0 lead just four minutes into the first quarter against Marianna on the way to a 69-22 victory that earned the host team their third district title in the last five years.
Walton got 22 points from junior guard Caretha Paul as she nailed six shots from behind the arc on the night, drilling four in the opening half of play and two more after intermission. Senior Taliah Moore had 19 points of her own, hitting five shots from behind the arc to lead a Braves attack that rolled to a 41-11 lead at the half.
Marianna struggled with turnovers in the first half of play and had a miserable shooting night overall as the Braves forced a running clock early in the third quarter to surge to a 53-15 lead after 24 minutes of play.
Walton took care of the basketball as they ran an efficient offense mixed with pressure defense that saw seven of their 10 players on the roster put points on the scoreboard.
Sophomore Deja Tucker had 12 points in the game while the Bulldogs had only one player on their squad score as many as five points in the final as Walton earned their third win of the year against the Jackson County squad.
The Bulldogs (6-15) got to the championship round after defeating Pensacola Catholic 35-16 in the district semi-final played at Walton on Friday night.
Marianna will have to travel to Florida High to take on the Seminoles on Thursday night in the opening round of the Class 4A state playoffs.
Walton (20-7) will face the runner-up from District 2, Tallahassee Godby, on Thursday night at 7 p.m.
Team Notes: The Walton Lady Braves claimed their 12th district title in school history (they won their first after the 1979-80 season) and earned their 18th trip to the state playoffs. Walton is 17-17 in state playoff games and will be hosting only their third playoff game since 1996. Walton defeated Chipley 82-64 on February 12, 2009, in the team’s last home playoff victory behind Lee Paulk’s 21 points. This will be the second playoff game in Walton’s new gymnasium after a 68-41 defeat to Tallahassee Godby on Feb. 9 to end the 2011-12 season. 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 1,598 points in her varsity career for the Lady Braves. Walton is 10-2 at home this season.