After an extremely slow start, the South Walton Seahawks finished strong with a 63-34 win over the Chipley Tigers in the 1A District 3 championship game Saturday night at the Hawks Nest in Santa Rosa Beach.

And although the Seahawks have been in the district finals for the last five years, this was a first for this team.

“None of these girls have won a district championship,” said South Walton Coach Kevin Craig just minutes after the girls hoisted up the championship trophy.

“Even Megan and Devany … they won the state but not the district,” he said.

Megan O’Neal and Devany Beard played for the Freeport Bulldogs that won the state championship last year.

“I’ve never been a district champ before,” O’Neal said. “It just feels like we won another game,” she said with a big smile on her face.

But she attributes the win to “teamwork.”

“We just work so well together. I couldn’t have asked for a better team,” she said.

“It was good to win,” Craig said.

“Of course I’d rather win the state, but I’m very proud of these kids,” he added.

With the win, South Walton advances to the Class 1A Regional Semifinals this Thursday where they will take on Liberty County, runner-up in District 4. During the regular season, South Walton beat Liberty 60-28 and 86-26. Game time Thursday is 7 p.m. at the Hawks Nest.

In Saturday’s district final with Chipley, it took a while for either team to get rolling.

“I thought some of them played a little nervous early in the game. It took us forever to score,” said Craig.

South Walton scored first on a shot from the free-throw line from Gracie Ricci at the 5:47 mark. However, it was Chipley that scored the first basket almost five minutes into the game. The Tigers hit back-to-back baskets for a 4-1 start. But in the last two minutes, South Walton put up 11 points with O’Neal and Hayley Seible hitting consecutive 3s. Savannah Slade hit a free throw and one from the paint. Then Seible made a steal for a layup at the buzzer, giving the Seahawks a 12-4 advantage.

“I thought Hayley Seible gave us a huge spark off the bench … really, really got us going,” Craig said.

“Devany Beard played great defensively in rebounding. And Savannah, I had to pull her out in the first quarter and settle her down, but then she played like she’s capable.

“And Megan she drives the bus,” Craig said, as he’s said many times in recent weeks.

In the second quarter, the Seahawks spread the scoring around with Slade, who finished the night with 18 points, led the way with nine points, O’Neal six, Ricci and Seible each tossed in a 3-pointer and Allee Coble hit an inside shot in the final seconds. South Walton led 35-11 at the half.

In the third quarter, South Walton picked up where they left off, with O’Neal dishing off to Slade for a layup. Seconds later, Slade drove the lane for two points. By the end of the quarter, Coble had scored two inside shots, Seible had scored a bucket and O’Neal had picked up a free throw for a 46-24 lead.

In the final stanza, Slade scored then Coble scored on a jumper plus drove the baseline for a basket and a trip to the foul line for a 53-27 lead. Chipley’s Essence Williams scored, and then O’Neal drained back-to-back 3-pointers right up the middle. South Walton finished up with Seible hitting a jumper and Georgia Johnson making two from the line.

“That’s one down, two to go,” Craig said, noting they are two games away from a trip to the Final Four in Lakeland.

“We didn’t play great, but we still won by about 30 points,” he said.