It’s not too often that a big disparity of foul calls against your team actually helps you win the game, but that’s exactly what happened on Tuesday night when the Osceola Kowboys (20-5) came away with a 49-45 win over Wellington to advance to the Class 7A, Region 3 Finals.

Sean Combs hit an arching layup with 31 seconds to go to give Osceola a 47-45 lead in the game. After the Kowboys forced a turnover at the other end, the Wolves found themselves down by two points with 16.8 seconds remaining but only had two team fouls.

Rather than trying to trap and come up with a steal, Wilmington started fouling intentionally to put Osceola on the foul line. But to do so, they had to commit five team fouls, which took all but 5.4 seconds off the clock. Combs made both ends of the one-and-one to secure the win.

“It’s absolutely crazy how this game plays out sometimes,” Osceola Coach Steve Mason said. “I wasn’t too happy about the huge disparity in fouls called on us compared to the number of fouls called on them but in the end, it helped us win the game. I was a bit surprised they didn’t try to trap and get a turnover because by having to foul us five times, it took more than 10 seconds of the game clock. It definitely worked to our advantage and shortened the game.”

It was an incredibly hard-fought game, where no team led by more than four points. The contest featured 13 lead changes and eight ties and every shot and possession was hotly contested on both ends of the floor.

Osceola would get five points, three rebounds, and a block from Combs to take a 12-10 lead after one period. They would extend the lead to 20-18 at the half, thanks to some spotty free-throw shooting by Wellington, who missed seven free throws in the half – including the front ends of three one-plus-ones.

The teams remained close in the third period, with the Wellington knotting the game up at 32-32 Brendan Williams knocked down a three-pointer and his teammates made five of six from the charity stripe to negate a six to three advantage Osceola had in field goals made.

Osceola would score a quick bucket to take a 34-32 lead at the start of the fourth, but Wellington got a layup and then forced two turnovers to regain the lead 37-34. Chris Rios tied it at 37-37 with a 3-pointer and a subsequent three from Sean Combs put Osceola up by three, but Williams would knock down his own 3 from the top of the key to make it a 43-43 with 1:52 left. Victor Guzman fired a nifty pass inside to Cory Vega as Osceola regained the lead, but Williams would hit both free throws after being fouled on a drive and the score was once again tied, 45-45, with 1:04 left.

Combs led all Osceola scorers with 21 points, but Mason said it was truly a team win. “I could not be prouder of the fire, fight and intensity we had tonight,” he said. “We got into foul trouble early and had to rely on some players to come in and pick up the slack. It was a slugfest from the beginning and every guy on the floor contributed to the win.”

Osceola’s foul trouble resulted in the Kowboys having to play both Jamarion McCrimon and Vega at the same time for most of third period and the first half of the fourth. “We have played four guards and one big all season but we got some guys in foul trouble and they were working us over pretty good underneath. Jamarion came in and gave some really tough minutes.”

Mason also praised the defensive play of Tyler Newsome. “Tyler usually gives us a quiet four or six points every game, but he always gives us a huge defensive effort. We had him on Williams tonight and that guy is a phenomenal player. He held him in check and made him work for everything he got tonight.”

Williams led 17 points but was held to just four in the first half.

The win means that Osceola will host a regional Friday at home against Lake Worth (20-3) as the Kowboys attempt to make it to their fourth Final Four in the last seven years.