Basketball teams from across the area are gearing up for their 2020 district tournaments. How do they all stack up?
This time a year ago, Okaloosa County was on the precipice of history.
No boys basketball team in the county had won a state championship since 1985. No girls team had won since Kevin Craig guided Fort Walton Beach to its second title in 1999.
Then along came Greg Watson, Marcus Purcell and the Crestview Bulldogs, underdogs in their own district until they avenged a District 1-7A championship loss to rival Choctaw in the region semifinals and rode the momentum all the way the county’s first boys state basketball title in 34 years.
Well, here we are again just days away from district tournaments kicking off across the state, and again we have a host of contenders.
Let’s see how it all breaks down.
Although the boys basketball district standings won’t be finalized until Tuesday, they are all but locked in given the final qualifying date was Saturday.
As it stands, Tate (19-2 overall) and Milton (13-11) have locked up the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, respectively, earning themselves a first-round bye in the District 1-6A tournament. That leaves Navarre (16-7) to play Crestview (3-19) and Niceville (8-15) to play Pace (8-12) in the quarterfinal round on Feb. 11 at Crestview High School.
Under coach Terry Posey, the Raiders have outscored opponents 1282-1148 on the year, including two wins against Crestview. Navarre beat the Bulldogs 62-30 in late December and 60-55 on Jan. 21.
Crestview, after losing its entire starting lineup to graduation this past may, has struggled this year, has won just a single game in district play, topping Pace 56-52 at the Northwest Florida Shootout tournament in December.
Conversely, Niceville lost to the Patriots twice during the regular season, falling 65-58 at home in December and 60-52 this past Tuesday.
Coach Andy Thigpen and the Indians (19-6) know how to win, proving it once again by securing a first-round bye and the No. 1 overall seed headed into the District 1-5A tournament at Booker T. Washington high School in Pensacola. Alongside No. 2 seed Pine Forest (12-11), they won’t have to play a game until Feb. 13.
That leaves the rest of the six-team district to fight for a chance to play in on Feb. 11, including No. 4 Fort Walton Beach. The Vikings (10-13) will play Escambia (5-13), their first meeting of the season.
Who’s ready for rivalry night?
Walton (13-11) and South Walton (8-14) are set to face off in the District 1-4A quarterfinals on Feb. 11 at Rutherford High School in Panama City.
Under coach Matt Nichols, the Braves have outscored opponents 1,439 and 1,347 this season, though it split the season series with South Walton. Coach Shafer Martin and the Seahawks took Game 1, 63-46, in DeFuniak Springs behind 21 points and 20 points from Kacen Corder and Jalier Ramos, respectively, while Game 2 went to the Braves, 64-58, on Jan. 17.
Seeded last in its six-team district, Rocky Bayou (5-11) will take on third-seeded Munroe (11-10) when the District 1-2A tournament kicks off on Feb. 11 at Munroe High School in Quincy. The Knights fell to the Bobcats 61-40 in early December.
Coming off a trip to the 1A Final Four this past March, Paxton (17-4) looks primed to make a return to Lakeland after convincingly locking up the No. 1 seed headed into the District 1-1A tournament at Paxton School.
The Bobcats will play either Jay (13-8) or Northview (0-21) in the semifinal round Feb. 14. They beat the Chiefs twice during the regular season and avenged a four-point loss to the Royals in December with a 61-55 victory on Jan. 14.
Meanwhile, Laurel Hill (9-11) and Baker (2-12) will face off in the quarterfinal round Feb. 11 for the opportunity to take on No. 2 seed Central (17-5), which also secured a first-round bye. The Hoboes topped the Gators by more than 30 points in both of their regular season meetings.
Despite the loss of the dynamic Brown sisters to a transfer, Crestview coach Steve Williams, who guided Paxton to a 1A title in 2014, and the Bulldogs (17-6) put together a season beyond their wildest expectations.
Securing the No. 2 seed, Crestview earned a first-round bye at the District 1-6A tournament, which kicks off Monday at Crestview High School.
The Bulldogs will play either Niceville (9-4) or Tate (6-12) in the semifinal round at 7 p.m. Wednesday after the Eagles and Aggies do battle at 6 p.m. Monday. Crestview swept Tate and split the season series with the Eagles, winning 42-33 at the Dawg Pound and falling 43-38 at the Eagles’ Nest.
Under coach David Day, Niceville took its only matchup with the Aggies 46-40 in December.
Meanwhile, Navarre (12-12) will play Milton (16-9) at 6 p.m. Monday for a shot at playing top-seeded Pace (18-6) at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. The Raiders twice beat the Panthers convincingly during the regular season, 47-29 on the road and 52-37 at home.
Coach Don Brown and the Indians (17-5) put in work, securing a first-round bye and the No. 2 seed at the District 1-5A tournament, which comes to Pine Forest High School in Pensacola on Tuesday, but that rest will be short lived.
Holly McDaniel and the rival Vikings are just one round away. With a win against Escambia (1-19) at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Fort Walton Beach would then play Choctaw at 6 p.m. Thursday in the semifinal round. The Vikings didn’t play the Gators during the regular season, but they enter on a four-game win streak.
As for Choctaw, each of the two previous meetings with Fort Walton Beach were decided by a combined five points; The Vikings won 43-40 at the TeePee in December before the Indians returned the favor in mid-January, topping Fort Walton Beach 57-55 at The Fort.
When the District 1-4A tournament kicks off Tuesday in DeFuniak Springs, Walton (5-20) will have an unenviable task ahead of it. Seeded last in the seven-team district, the Braves will take on No. 2 seed Pensacola (11-10) at 6 p.m Tuesday in the quarterfinal. The two didn’t square off during the regular season, and Walton has lost six straight games.
Meanwhile, coach Kevin Craig and the Seahawks (11-9), hot off Craig’s 800th career victory, will take on Rutherford (15-9) at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. South Walton topped the Rams twice this year, including a 63-61 overtime victory in its opener.
Rocky Bayou (2-12) will take on Munroe (0-17) at 5 p.m. Tuesday when the District 1-2A tournament kicks off at North Florida Christrian School in Tallahassee. The Knights beat the Bobcats 37-31 in their only meeting this season.
Coach Andrew Norris and the Bobcats (21-2) are just two years removed from a trip to Lakeland, and they look ready to do it again after securing a first-round bye and the top seed at the District 1-1A tournament, which kicks of Tuesday at Jay High School in Jay. They won’t play until 5:30 p.m. Thursday when they’ll face either Central (4-21) or Laurel Hill (4-12).
The Jaguars and the Hoboes will square off at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Central the winner of both contests during the regular season.
Meanwhile, Baker (3-11) will play Northview (8-7) at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday for the chance to play No. 2 Jay. The Gators fell to the Chiefs 50-46 in overtime on Dec. 13, their only meeting of the regular season.