South Walton routs Villages, advances to 1A finals

Published: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 at 05:50 PM.

Following South Walton’s 54-30 1A semifinal win over The Villages Charter School on Tuesday, there was no celebration at midcourt. There were no tears. Even the obligatory high fives, hugs, fist bumps and chest bumps that traditionally follow wins of this magnitude were nonexistent.

On basketball’s biggest stage, under the bright spotlight of the final four in Lakeland, a venue never experienced before for the South Walton program, the Seahawks had played like champions. And as the final horn whistled, they put their heads down, shook hands with yet another overmatched foe and, as powerhouses do, acted like champions.

“We came into the locker room and there was no celebration,” said South Walton and Florida Hall of Fame coach Kevin Craig.

Considering the Seahawk’s championship-or-bust mentality, why would there be? While it was the second program-defining win in four days, following their 54-44 win over defending champion Ponce de Leon on Saturday for the program’s first region title, the Seahawks understand that the historic run is far from over.

There is still a state championship still to be won.

“They did not expend a lot of emotion today,” Craig said. “We did what we needed to do and now we move on.”

Standing in the way of the Seahawks and their first state title is Chipley, which defeated top-ranked Hilliard 55-50 in the other 1A semifinal. Tipping off at 3:35 p.m. locally, the 24-6 Seahawks and 23-4 Tigers will meet today for 1A supremacy.

The two teams met on Nov. 20 in the regular season, with Chipley pulling out the 47-38 win.

But the circumstances surrounding the loss paint it as an inconsequential affair. For instance, along with coming more than 90 days ago, the tilt was South Walton’s third in a 24-hour span  — the Seahawks played Malone the morning before, then FWB in the afternoon before waking up to Chipley in a Thanksgiving tournament showcase. South Walton was also without Mackenzie Perot; the Seahawks are 1-3 when she doesn’t play..

“That was a long time ago,” Craig said. “We didn’t play our best and they also probably didn’t play their best. We’re two different teams right now.”

The South Walton team that took the court Tuesday looked to be one of destiny.

What has become the norm in their impressive postseason run, which has included double-digit wins in all four contests, two themes emerged from Tuesday’s historic win: a lockdown defensive effort and a share-the-wealth offense predicated on attacking the post.

The former was illustrated by three alarming stats from the Buffalos: 30 turnovers, a 33 shooting percentage and just 12 points from Asia Marion, more than eight below her season average of 20.4

“We played well defensively,” Craig said. “We just continue to do the things that make us successful, and we really haven’t deviated from that.”

That includes a suffocating zone predicated on half-court traps and help defense that allowed just one 3-pointer and made entry passes into the post nearly impossible.

But the most impressive feat was holding Marion to her second-lowest scoring output of the season.

The lone Buffalo scoring in double figures, Marion’s struggles had a lot to do with foul trouble. The 5-foot-7 senior garnered her third foul less than two minutes into the second quarter and was forced to sit during a frame in which the Seahawks outscored the Buffalos 16-3 to lead 26-14 at halftime. Relegated to a tentative, away-from-the-hoop brand of basketball, Marion was never able to settle into an offensive rhythm as she scored just five points in the first half.

“She got frustrated,” Craig said. “Casey Perot did a really good job of defending inside and (Kati) Trejo and Mackenzie and Tayler (Menard) also helped out.”

Despite pouring in seven points in the first five minutes of play out of the locker room, Marion’s night ended early in the third quarter. She gathered her fourth foul early in the second half and then was forced to the bench after a reach-in foul with seven seconds left in the third.

“She got some silly fouls and they just couldn’t afford to play without here,” Craig said.

With Marion on the court, the Buffalos struggled. But without her they were helpless.

After Marion departed, the Buffalos were outscored 14-5 in the final eight minutes of play in the lopsided loss.

The 30 Buffalo turnovers allowed for the share-the-wealth, pound-the-post Seahawk offense to overcome a sub-35 percent shooting effort and a goose egg from beyond the arc.

While the Buffalos’ offense was one dimensional, the Seahawks had a bevy of weapons share the offensive spotlight.

With Eve Heffron leading the way with 12 points, six players scored six or more points to showcase the team’s depth. Casey Perot, who secured a team-high 11 rebounds, and Morgan Kennedy each scored nine points, Trejo poured in seven, and Mackenzie Perot and Menard each chipped in six.

“That’s why it’s so hard for opponents to game plan against us,” Craig said. “ If someone’s not producing, someone else will step up. Everyone always seems to get their six or eight (points).”

So how exactly are the Seahawks preparing for Chipley?

After a little R & R and food at a local mall following the win, the Seahawks went back to their hotel to review film and discuss the notes Craig and his staff took on the Tigers’ semifinal win.

“This is uncharted territory,” Craig said. “… but we’re just one step closer to history.”

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