The first round of regionals in all classes for boys high school basketball tip off Thursday night.
Seeding is set by district tournament results and (as the word "regional" denotes) location. Because of district upsets and geographic luck, there's usually a match-up that seems out of place this early on.
In 5A, that's Marianna at Walton.
The Bulldogs carry a 23-4 record into Defuniak Springs, while the Braves are 21-4. They combine for the highest winning percentage of any 5A region quarterfinal match.
Marianna beat Walton by 17 in late December, but the Bulldogs lost 70-45 last time out in the district semifinals against Florida High. Walton has won seven in a row, none more exciting than the district final against Pensacola Catholic.
A steal by Jakobe Campbell set up an inbound to four year starter Kentrell Parker for an unforgettable half court game winner.
If you believe in momentum, that's the best boost you can get.
"That was probably one of the most amazing things I've ever been a part of," first year Walton head coach Matthew Nichols said. "You go through something like that, you fight back, and you win in that fashion, I think it brings the boys together. I feel like they're in a good place right now and we just feel blessed seeing people in the community, how excited they are about it. We're looking forward to being packed out there Thursday."
When Walton played Marianna, it was on late notice, set up after a team dropped out of the MHS winter break tournament. Based on past history and scouting, it's clear to Nichols (and just about everybody else) how tough this test will be.
"It should be a war! Both teams are a lot alike. I'd say they're a little deeper than us, but both teams are very athletic, very quick, like to get out in transition. They definitely like to get on a run when they can and pressure. They got us at their place, so we're hoping we can get them at ours."
Tip time is set for 7 p.m.