FREEPORT – Defense and ball control was the key that unlocked the door to a 34-31 victory for South Walton over county rival Freeport.

“Defense, defense, defense and controlling the floor ... that was the difference,” said South Walton Coach Deon Kennedy. “That’s our game plan throughout the whole district. We have to slow the ball down and defense is definitely the key for us.”

And slowing the pace of the game down was exactly what the Seahawks did, passing the ball around and working it inside. And with slow play came a low scoring game.

Tied at 26 entering the fourth quarter, Freeport hit first on a layup from Lane Free. South Walton answered with Hayden Stroop sinking a baseline shot. About midway through the period, South Walton hit one from the free-throw line to go up 29-28 and then senior guard Mason Hall gave the Seahawks some breathing room with a driving layup in the last minute of play.

Freeport fired off a shot and missed and was then forced to foul. South Walton’s Cade Rowland went to the line and made the first of two tries. Freeport brought the ball down and Free drilled a 3-pointer right up the middle to come within one point of the Seahawks.

Still forced to foul, Freeport sent the Seahawks to the line again. Flint Bekkers made both shots with 17 seconds left on the clock.

Freeport tried one last shot at the buzzer and missed.

“You just never know in these kinds of games,” Kennedy said. “It could have gone either way, but defense was the key for us.”

At the end of the first quarter, Freeport led 7-5.

In the second quarter, South Walton pulled ahead early with Hall, who finished with 11 points, putting up three straight baskets. Second later, Bekkers was fouled, went to the line and hit both shots for a 13-7 advantage.

However that didn’t last long as the Bulldogs came back and forced the ball inside and picked up fouls. Case Woodard, who finished the night with 13 points, went to the line three times in three minutes and hit four of six tries. Hagen Brown tied the game up on a layup with a minute left in the first half. Not done yet, South Walton’s Stroop put a rebound back to go up 15-13 and then Freeport’s Woodard picked up another foul and went to the line to tie the game at 15-15 with 36 seconds left on the clock. South Walton brought the ball down and worked it around as Dylan Herbert drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer to go up 18-15 at the break.