By: J. Daniel Pearson
For Positively Osceola
For weeks leading up to the official start of preseason camp, Osceola’s basketball team would meet at 5:30 in the morning for voluntary workouts that included conditioning and weight lifting. “I don’t think anyone loved being there, but I told them if they stuck with it, it would pay dividends during the season,” Osceola Coach Steve Mason said. “I think they believe that now.”
Displaying superior speed and conditioning, Osceola pressed on defense and attacked on offense Friday night, routing Tohopekaliga, 82-52, to claim the Class 7A, District 9 championship. “Without question, that is the most locked in and focused we have been all season long,” Mason said. “You want to be playing your best basketball at the end of the season and we certainly took a major step in that direction tonight.”
Osceola dominated in all phases of the game. Whether it was hitting long-range jumpers, forcing 20 turnovers with double teams, or finding the wide-open player for an easy layup, the Kowboys simply made few mistakes on the evening.
Ryan Rivera got off to a hot start, scoring eight points as Osceola built a 23-11 lead after just one quarter. Chris Rios would take over in the second, making five field goals and scoring 12 points as Osceola extended the lead to 54-29.
Rios and Osceola kept their foot on the accelerator in the third quarter.
When Tyler Newsome hit a layup at the four-minute mark, the Kowboys opened a 35-point lead which led to a running clock. Rios scored eight and he and his teammates hit a total of five 3s in a 23-point quarter as Osceola extended its lead to 77-74.
About the only negative came in the game with 2:53 remaining when a scuffle between students broke out in the stands and spilled out on to the floor. Although school administrators quickly defused the situation, game officials decided to call the game for the safety of all.
For the game, Rios led all scorers with 20 points. Sean (17) and Chris (11) Combs combined for 28 points; while Corey Vega added nine. Jamarion McCrimmon scored six points, had eight rebounds and also added two blocks in limited minutes.
The victory will ensure a top-four seed when next week’s regionals start for Osceola, which will include a home game in the quarterfinals on Thursday night. “We may not have the biggest team or the most talented team, but when we play like we did tonight, we can be competitive with a lot of teams,” Mason said. “Given that we did not play all that well in Wednesday’s semifinal win over Lake Nona, I thought we took a huge step in the right direction tonight.”
For Toho, which finished with an 11-11 record, it marked the first time the school finished the season with a non-losing record. In three previous years, the Tigers were a combined 13-49 record. The Tigers district semifinal win over Cypress Creek on Wednesday was the first post-season win in school history.
The Tigers were led in scoring by Josh Camelo and Elial Salva, who had 16 points each; Salva added seven rebounds and two blocks.
“I made it a point to congratulate Jesus (Tohopekaliga head coach Jesus Merced) after the game,” Mason said. “They had some good wins this year and he certainly has the program moving in the right direction.”
In addition to Osceola, which clinched an automatic bid for regionals, Gateway (18-8) will wait to see if they get an at-large bid for the Class 5A tournament.