By PATRICK CASEY and BLAKE MCCORMICK
Paxton posted a 2-2 mark while Freeport went 1-2 in the 22nd Annual Hilton Sandestin Beach Basketball Blowout that was held last week at Freeport High School.
Freeport lost a tight contest in their opener on Dec. 27 as Stewarts Creek rallied from a 26-23 deficit after three quarters of play to post a 15-10 scoring advantage over the final eight minutes to pull out a 38-36 victory. The Tennessee squad got a pair of three pointers from Brayden Jackson in the fourth quarter as he scored eight of his 11 points in the final stanza. The Red Hawks committed only two turnovers in the game, both in the first quarter, but shot a woeful 15-of-60 from the floor to help keep Freeport on their heels. The Bulldogs had 13 turnovers of their own as they connected on 12-of-34 shots, losing the rebounding battle but connecting on 8-of-10 free throws in the contest. Case Woodard provided 21 of the Bulldogs’ 36 points but no other player scored more than four points for the host squad.
The Paxton boys crushed Fort Dale 56-18 in their first game of the tourney as the Bobcats’ reserves got plenty of playing time after running out to a 19-5 lead after the first quarter. All 12 players scored at least one point with Jacob Butts leading the way with 12 points, the only Paxton player to reach double figures. The score was 27-6 at the half and 41-14 after three as the Walton County squad rolled to their 10th victory of the season behind 21-of-53 shooting from the field and 10-of-16 from the charity stripe. The Eagles hit only 6-of-43 shots from the field and got 15 of their 18 points from Luke Taylor.
It looked like troublesome deja vu for Freeport in their second round contest against out-manned Fort Dale Academy on the second day of the tournament as the Bulldogs only had a 17-16 lead to show for their first half effort against the Eagles but Zack Seay, Lane Free and Wesley Canaday all had three point baskets in the third quarter to help the host squad outscore the visitors from Greenville, Ala., 37-11 for the remainder of the game, en route to a 54-27 victory. Case Woodard led all scorers with 11 points.
Paxton found themselves in a second round scrap-fest with Stewarts Creek, trailing the Red Hawks 28-25 heading into the fourth quarter, but, true to Bobcat form, the Walton County squad had a fourth quarter of quality free throw shooting, connecting on 16-of-21 shots from the line, and outlasting the visitors from Smyrna, Tenn., 50-40. Zach Varnum led all scorers with 19 points while Hunter Allen added 14.
Freeport faced Tallahassee Maclay on Day 3 with the Marauders eliminating the host squad with a 53-48 decision that saw the Leon County squad connect on a barrage of three-point shots in the third quarter to pull away for the win. Freeport trailed 21-17 at halftime only to have Robert Crawford connect on three shots from behind the arc to score nine of his game-leading 18 points in the third quarter. Teammate Zimife Nwokeji, a 6-foot-9 center, added 11 points on the interior to help Maclay get the win. The Bulldogs put three players in double figures as Woodard scored 19 with Wesley Canaday adding 12 and Zack Seay 11. Maclay scored the final five points of the third quarter to hold a 37-32 advantage entering the final eight minutes and made 10-of-14 free throws in the fourth quarter to hold off Freeport. The Bulldogs finished the 2016 portion of their schedule with a 9-5 mark.
Paxton faced Lexington High School from South Carolina in the third round, or the Final Four of the winner’s bracket, on Thursday in the final contest of the day in a match-up that looked to be a thriller. However, senior Zach Varnum picked up a personal foul just 128 seconds into the game, then received a technical foul and was pulled form the contest by coach Jeff Bradley. Paxton was able to hold a 16-11 lead at the half despite missing Varnum for the rest of the night as the Wildcats shot a woeful 4-of-27 from the field over the first 16 minutes. The South Carolina squad finally got going in the third quarter as they posted a 17-5 scoring advantage to move ahead 28-21 on the way to a 43-32 victory. The Wildcats were 16-of-58 from the floor while Paxton connected on 13-of-39 shots from the field. Caleb Shackelford was the only Wildcat in double figures as he scored 16 points while Hunter Allen had 12 for Paxton with Garrett Bodie adding 11. The Wildcats forced 18 turnovers from Paxton while committing only five of their own as Lexington moved to 14-1 on the year with Paxton falling to 11-2.
Paxton was the only local team left playing on Friday and the speculation around Freeport’s gymnasium was, one, would Paxton have won its third round game had Zach Varnum not been benched by coach Jeff Bradley following a technical foul, and, two, would Bradley let the senior start against Starr’s Mill in the third place game. With the Bobcats trailing 41-29 with 6:15 left in the third quarter, Varnum came off the bench for the first time and provided a spark, but it wasn’t enough as the Bobcats fell to the visitors from Fayetteville, Ga., 74-51. Garrett Bodie led the Bobcats with 11 points as they ended the 2016 portion of their schedule with an 11-3 mark.
Hughes High School, from Cincinnati, defeated Lexington 81-74 on Friday night for the tournament title.
By PATRICK CASEY and BLAKE MCCORMICK