Seahawks take down Panthers, bound for state (VIDEO, PHOTOS)

Tina Harbuck

With confetti flying and a lot of jumping up and down going on, the South Walton Seahawks were riding on a high Tuesday night after they defeated the West Gadsden Panthers 63-41 in the Class 1A Regional Finals at the Hawks Nest.

“It’s just a good feeling to go to the Final Four, there’s nothing else like it,” said South Walton Coach Kevin Craig in the locker room following Tuesday’s game. This will be Craig’s eighth time to go to the state.

To see a video of the Seahawks, in action, CLICK HERE.

With the win over West Gadsden, South Walton (25-3) will take on No. 1 Trenton in the State Semifinals on Tuesday at the Lakeland Center with the championship game to follow on Wednesday.

But what got the Seahawks to this point?

“A team that plays very well together,” Craig said.

“It’s just a team that gelled. We had kids that came from all over.”

Seahawk Center Savannah Slade was a move in from Tennessee, while point guard Megan O’Neal and Devany Beard both played for the Freeport Bulldogs last year that won the state championship.

Nevertheless, Craig said, “This is a group of kids that accepted each other, and cared about each other.

“We just play so well together, it’s fun to watch our team play.”

On Tuesday the Seahawks were a lot of fun to watch with the crowd getting into the game cheering and holding up signs in support.

West Gadsden got on the board first with an inside shot from Shakia Gilcrease. South Walton answered with Gracie Ricci tossing in a 3-pointer. West Gadsden Nyaisa Green scored, then South Walton came back with Slade and Allee Coble hitting back-to-back inside shots. The Panthers evened the score on a 3-pointer from Martasia Atkins. Seconds later, Coble passed off to Slade for a shot off the glass and then Ricci came back with a 3-pointer to give the Seahawks a 12-7 lead. In the last minute, West Gadsden’s Shakia Gilcrease scored and Coble put a rebound back for two and a 14-9 lead at the buzzer.

In the second quarter, South Walton pulled away outscoring the Panthers 21-9. Slade, who finished the night with 12 points and 24 rebounds, started the scoring with a put back basket. O’Neal dished off to Coble for an inside shot. West Gadsden’s Gilcrease scored a 3-pointer. But not to be outdone, South Walton’s O’Neal drained a 3-pointer. O’Neal wrapped up the evening with 17 points and eight assists. Ricci scored one from underneath and Coble dropped in another off a pass from O’Neal. In the last three minutes of the first half, South Walton put up 10 more points, five from O’Neal, two from Coble and a trey from Hayley Seible. South Walton led 35-18 at the half.

In the third quarter, West Gadsden came out firing the 3-pointer and the Seahawks changed up their defense. West Gadsden nailed four 3s and outscored the Seahawks 16-14 for the period.

In the fourth, South Walton tossed in 14 while the Panthers made only seven.

“They are a much better team than they were last year,” Craig said.

“In the third quarter, we got stagnant and they started launching 3s, so we went man-to-man.

“Devany Beard did a great job on Gilcrease, and what we did was guard her and No. 12 and No. 10 and made Gilcrease drive to the basket and we had Savannah standing there. It took them out of a rhythm.”

For the game, South Walton was led by Coble and O’Neal with 17 points each. Coble also had seven rebounds and Beard six. Slade scored 12 and Ricci hit for 10 points and was credited with five assists. Beard chipped in four points and Seible three.

Tops for the Panthers was Gilcrease with 15 points. Green and Martasia Atkins each scored 10 points.

The Seahawks plan to leave for Lakeland on Sunday, but until then, “practice, practice, practice,” Craig and the team said in the locker room.