'We needed it': Choctaw holds off FWB

Sam Grubenhoff | 315-4476 | @SamGrubenhoff | sgrubenhoff@nwfdailynews.com

FORT WALTON BEACH — It wasn’t pretty, but it was a win.

And after letting Fort Walton Beach pull one out earlier this year at The Fort, it was a win the Choctaw girls basketball team can savor.

After trailing early, the Indians used their superior size to limit the Viking offense late in Thursday night’s 42-36 victory at the TeePee.

“We needed it,” Choctaw coach Don Brown said. “We played very poorly the last couple of games.

“Over the Christmas break, they played pretty well, so we gotta get back to playing that way towards the end of the season.”

The Indians (12-3 overall, 2-2 District 2-7A) entered the fourth quarter up only 32-29 after senior Ataliya Brown knocked down a 3-pointer from the far corner for the game’s 10th lead change of the night.

Fort Walton Beach (10-7, 2-1) found itself in familiar territory.

When the two teams met this past December, the Vikings trailed Choctaw for nearly the entire game before dealing its crosstown rival their first loss of the season. Viking junior Damia McLane sealed a 46-44 victory against the Indians when she nailed a go-ahead layup through contact with 24 seconds left and stole the ball away from Choctaw on the Indians’ final possession.

This time, there would be no comeback.

With six minutes left, Kyla Abraham, Choctaw’s 6-foot-4 freshman post, collected her own miss at the basket and tipped it in to go up by five, a lead the Indians never relinquished, and Choctaw started to run out the clock.

Fort Walton Beach was held scoreless during the game’s final four minutes until freshman Samantha Sherer broke up the drought on a 3-pointer with 5.5 seconds left.

“The second half especially, we just couldn’t get some things going offensively,” Viking coach Holly McDaniel said. “I thought we played pretty good defense, but we got to do a better job, especially in the first half, of getting second and third opportunities when we’re shooting the ball. Our offensive rebounding was horrendous tonight.”

Fort Walton Beach opened Thursday night on a 9-2 run over the game’s first six minutes and looked as if it might pull away, Sherer scoring or assisting on the Vikings’ first three buckets.

Down seven, Choctaw turned to its captains for answers.

Tiara Swain knocked down a quick bucket with 1:58 left in the first quarter, then Brown hit a 3-pointer in the far corner before sophomore Alexis Becker finished at the rim on two quick layups to ensure the Indians trailed by only one before time ran out in the frame and the game morphed into a back-and-forth contest.

Becker led the Indians in scoring with 11 points, Swain had 10, and Abraham had eight. Sherer led all scorers with 14 points.

Choctaw’s victory muddles the district landscape. Fort Walton Beach remains in the driver’s seat at 2-1 with one game to play against Crestview (13-4, 1-2), but it could have secured a first-round bye with a victory Thursday. If the Vikings drop their final game against Crestview, each team in the district would be tied at 2-2.

The Vikings are set to host Crestview at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday, having bested them 61-56 in early December.

Choctaw, meanwhile, will travel to Niceville to play the Eagles at 6 p.m. Monday with an eye on continued improvement. The Indians beat Niceville 53-41 at the end of November.

“We just gotta play together, play smarter,” Brown said. “This is a young group and they still got some growing up to do, but I’m still proud of them. To be 12-3, we’re still in the middle of things.”

South Walton 48, West Florida 35

Lani Warren had a 12-point, 13-rebound double-double, Catherine Coble delivered 11 points and Aidan Collins chipped in 14 rebounds and eight points for South Walton (8-10, 4-3) in the win.

Ellie Wiggins added eight points and Gracie Lowry pulled down 12 boards to go along with seven points.