By BLAKE MCCORMICK
In what may end up being the pivotal game of the season for the South Walton girls basketball team, coach Kevin Craig spent the better part of three quarters visibly frustrated on the sideline, but by the fourth, was joyously fist pumping and giving a celebratory high five to assistant coach Bill Knox as the Walton County squad pulled away for a 62-49 victory this past Thursday night against the Gators.
“We led by 14, (in the first half) then had mental collapses on several plays. To their credit, I think they cut it to eight at the half and then we were up 10 again, and they cut it to three. I called a timeout and we had a little meeting. This has happened a bunch this season, we collapsed. But tonight, on the road, from 44-41, we closed out the quarter with the last four points then we just dominated the last quarter.”
Craig’s 13th South Walton squad made a habit in the early part of the season of not playing well after establishing leads, leading to heartbreaking losses against Niceville and Choctawhatchee, and an unsavory win against Holmes County. But on this night, the Lady Hawks secured loose balls, and out-rebounded their district foe in the last quarter, leading to a victory in the key district contest.
“Our bench gave us big minutes. Aidan Collins and Devany Beard played great and got great rebounds. Allee Coble, it was her first game playing point, and she had a great game. Savannah (Slade) really took charge, but we’re becoming more of a team. We’re not solely relying on her, which is good.”
The teams alternated momentum shifts throughout the contest. South Walton led 17-15 in the first quarter, then went on a 17-4 run to start the second before the host Gators scored eight straight points, making the halftime margin 33-25. In the third quarter, the Lady Gators went on an 11-2 run, making the score 40-37 in the final three minutes of the period. That’s when the 34-year head coaching veteran called a timeout.
“I just told them, let’s just keep playing. They’re playing six or seven kids, we’re playing nine and ten.”
And play they did, as five different Lady Hawks contributed to the scoring in a 10-1 streak in the fourth quarter. With a 54-42 lead, Craig had his team slow the pace and drain the clock. Baker would close the gap to 54-47 before the visitors from Santa Rosa Beach would end the game with an 8-2 run.
South Walton added a 51-30 district road win at Jay on Friday night to move to 4-4 overall but 3-0 in District 3 of Class A.
The Seahawks will travel to Northview on Friday before returning home on Dec. 13 for their final home game of 2016 against the Jay Royals.
By BLAKE MCCORMICK