SANTA ROSA BEACH — South Walton High School is going to the Final Four for the first time in the history of the girls basketball program.
The Seahawks turned back defending Class 1A state champion Ponce de Leon 54-44 on Saturday night to win the Region 2-1A title.
"Just for this school, this community, I can't explain how much this means," said head coach Kevin 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."
The outcome avenged a loss to PDL in last year’s region final. South Walton will take a 23-6 record into its state semifinal against Villages on Tuesday. Ponce de Leon finished 23-6.
Senior Eve Heffron scored a team-high 15 points for South Walton to go along with seven rebounds and seven assists as the Seahawks finished a perfect 14-0 at home.
South Walton forced 26 turnovers and held the Pirates to 34 percent shooting. Leading scorer Ashley Harper had 13 points, with just two coming in the second half.
Early on, South Walton looked overmatched in every facet of the game as it opened with five turnovers and 2-for-7 shooting. Meanwhile, Harper scored seven points in the first five minutes to put the Pirates ahead 16-7.
The Seahawks stormed back. Heffron knocked down three free throws and Katie Trejo and Casey Perot delivered baskets in the post during a 9-0 run. Perot had a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
With the Pirates encountering foul trouble, South Walton built a 34-25 halftime lead. PDL coach Tim Alford said his team slumped when two post players were collared with three fouls by the second quarter.
South Walton was 11-15 at the free-throw line in the second quarter alone.
“It was going our way early, and that took it away from us,” Alford said.
South Walton led 41-34 after three quarters, but PDL clawed as close as 46-44.
“We fouled, had a turnover here and there. We were in foul trouble the whole time,” Alford said.
The Seahawks rebuilt their lead with clutch free-throw shooting.
“It was a struggle, we had a good chance (in the fourth quarter) but didn’t handle ourselves well,” Alford said. “We just lost our composure.”