SANTA ROSA BEACH - Early in Friday night’s District 1-3A semifinal, the South Walton girls’ basketball team, which posted a perfect 12-0 district record in the regular season, faced a rare bit of adversity when opponent Liberty County raced out to an early 5-2 lead.
That adversity didn’t last long.
Behind a stifling defense that forced 13 first-quarter turnovers, South Walton’s Seahawks answered Liberty County’s early lead with a 20-0 run to take control in an eventual 62-18 win.
“I was pleased with everything tonight except the fact that we missed a lot of shots,” said South Walton head coach Kevin Craig, whose team secured a spot in tonight’s district championship game. “At this point in the year, rebounding is huge. We rebounded well and defended, and you like to see that.”
Point guard Morgan Kennedy was key to the early surge, as she delivered six of her game-high 10 steals in the first quarter. Kennedy’s thefts led to easy baskets on the other end, helping the Seahawks create early separation while building a 28-11 halftime lead.
“Morgan’s defense on the ball is outstanding,” said Craig. “She is a terror defensively.”
Kennedy’s on-ball defense helped set the tone for a South Walton squad that forced 36 Liberty County turnovers.
While sluggish offensively at times in the first half, South Walton enjoyed a quick start to the second half, outscoring Liberty County 22-7 to put the game away.
“I though Eve (Heffron) sparked us early in the second half,” said Craig. “She came out quickly and got some baskets that really got us going.”
Heffron scored six of her eight points in the first 90 seconds of the third quarter, igniting an 18-4 run to open the half.
On the night, Casey Perot led South Walton with 14 points, while McKenzie Perot added 10 points and 10 rebounds. Heffron scored eight points and Kennedy seven while Katie Trejo and Taylor Menard added six each.
Liberty County's Chelsea Gowan scored 14 of her team's 18 points. She also grabbed nine rebounds.
The win helps South Walton get one step closer to having a top seed in the Class 1A playoffs, a seed that would likely give the Seahawks homecourt advantage throughout regional play.
“We’ve talked about this since the summer,” said Craig. “These girls know we have to win the district to set ourselves up for a playoff run. Now, we’ve got our chance. The table is set for us, we just have to go out and do it.”