Seahawks earn program-defining win, advance to Final Four (GALLERY)


South Walton's Tayler Menard, left, and Casey Perot, right, fight for a loose ball against Ponce de Leon's Jordan Thomas, middle, on Saturday during the region final.

Published: Saturday, February 16, 2013 at 10:16 PM.

SANTA ROSA BEACH - Drawing from the words of Herb Brooks, the coach of the 1980 U.S. Hockey team that stunned the world with what was deemed the "Miracle on Ice," South Walton coach Kevin Craig likes to tell his team, "Great moments are born from great opportunity."

On Saturday, that great opportunity arrived for the Seahawks. But what transpired in their Region 3-1A championship tilt against Ponce de Leon in no way, shape or form could be defined solely as a great moment.

No, that would be too short-sighted. What resulted from the Seahawks' 54-44 win could only be described by one two words: program-defining.

The Seahawks, a program always on the cusp of greatness, has finally snagged its white whale. The Seahawks are going to the final four for the first time in the history of the program.

View a photo gallery form the game >>

"Just for this school, this community, I can't explain how much this means," said Craig, who took over a program in 2004 that had finished 0-25 the year before. "I'm just so proud to be a Seahawk right now."

Fittingly, the postgame celebration perfectly captured a storybook moment that rewrote the Seahawk record books.

When the final whistle blew, the Seahawk players met at midcourt and embraced. Their moment was finally here. All of their hard work had paid off.

Less than 10 feet away, Craig punched the air repeatedly in jubilation, his right arm flailing in unabashed joy.

"I'm so proud of these girls," Craig said. "We've had the most drama you could ever have with a team -- it's been a soap opera. But these girls are like sisters and they fought and hung in there."

Not to be left out, the fans then decided to get in on the postgame celebration, rushing midcourt and hoisting players one-by-one to show their pride for a team that had delivered what so many teams before them couldn't.

That includes last year's team, which watched its season come to an end in a 56-42 loss to the Pirates (23-6) in the region championship. But with redemption on their mind, the Seahawks (23-6)  just wouldn't be denied.

"It's crazy," said senior Eve Heffron, who scored a team-high 15 points to go along with seven rebounds and seven assists. "They beat us at their home last year in the regional finals, so for us to beat them here was huge." I wanted this more than anything."

Along with rewriting the record books and avenging last year's loss, the Seahawks also finished a perfect 14-0 at home. That accomplishment was especially special for Craig, who before the season wrote 1 through 14 on the locker room dry erase board. He challenged his team to win ever game, putting an X next to the number following each victory. And Saturday night marked No. 14. And No. 14 came on the strengths of a lockdown defensive effort.

To wit: The Seahawks forced 26 turnovers and held the Pirates to 34 percent shooting. Even the 5-foot-10 Ashley Harper, the Pirates' go-to player, mustered only 13 points, with just two coming in the second half.

"Defensively the job we did on Harper -- what we call our special -- was outstanding," Craig said. " Eve Heffron and Katie Logan and Tayler Menard just really did an awesome job in shutting her down."

Early on, though, South Walton looked overmatched in every facet of the game as it opened the night with five turnovers and a 2-for-7 shooting clip. Meanwhile, Harper scored seven points in the first five minutes to put the Pirates ahead 16-7.

But the Seahawks would storm back with a fury.

Heffron knocked down three free throws, Katie Trejo and Casey Perot delivered baskets in the post and Logan drilled a 16-foot jumper on the left wing to ignite a 9-0 run and pull the game even at 16 headed into the second quarter.

"Just nerves," Craig said.

Perot, who poured in a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds, echoed that sentiment, saying, "I still have butterflies from the beginning of the game."

From there the momentum never waned.

Drawing contact by attacking the hoop and hitting the boards, the Seahawks shot 11 of 15 from the foul line in the second quarter and outscored the Pirates 18-9 to assume a 34-25 halftime lead.

The lead would dwindle to as little as 36-34 in the third quarter, but Heffron delivered a pair of baskets to fuel a 5-0 run to end the frame with the Seahawks leading 41-34.

The lead would drop to two once more in the fourth (46-44), but the Seahawks increased the lead with six clutch free throws and Heffron fed Trejo for a basket in the waning seconds to make it a double-digit lead and seal the win.

But the Seahawks are far from done rewriting the record books.

"We're going to stay together, work hard and try to make it to that last game and win," said Perot.

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