By: J. Daniel Pearson
For Positively Osceola
With the Orange Belt Conference Tournament a little more than six weeks away, the Harmony Longhorns served notice that they will be a team to be reckoned with following a 42-36 road win over Gateway on Monday night.
That victory, combined with a 54-47 win over Osceola last Wednesday, pushed the Longhorns to 5-1 on the season and 3-1 against county opposition. The only blemish on their record was a narrow loss to Tohopekaliga in the season opener.
“This is a tough place to play and Gateway is always a well-coached team that plays aggressive defense,” Harmony coach Duke Leonardo said. “So from that prospective, we’re happy to get out of here with a win, but we certainly did not play our best basketball tonight.”
Harmony rotated its five starters by checking in five reserves at four minute intervals for most of the game. It was a strategy that Leonardo has employed all season and defensively it helped the Longhorns, as they limited Gateway to five for 24 shooting in the first half.
Still, the Longhorns committed several turnovers and Harmony led just 19-15 at the end of two quarters.
“We played well defensively, especially in the first half, so to only be leading by four was a little disappointing,” Leonardo added.
Gateway scored the first two buckets of the second half to forge their first tie of the game at 19-19 but in the period Miguel Tirado, Noah Tribe and Vladimir Terrado all hit three pointers and the Longhorns would extend the lead to six after three quarters, 32-26.
Still the Panthers would fight back.
They opened the final stanza on an 8-0 run to take a 34-32 lead on a Dimas Cervantes jumper from the top of the key. The Panthers first and only lead of the game would be short-lived as back-to-back baskets by Rafael Balines and Miguel Tirado put Harmony up for good at 36-34.
Tirado would score six of his game-high 12 points in the final 90 seconds to put the contest away for the Longhorns. After his basket put Harmony ahead for good, he would hit another shot and knock down both ends of a one-and-one with 24 seconds left. Caden Scarborough would then hit both ends of another one-and-one with 18 seconds as Harmony went four of five from the line in the closing seconds.
While hitting free throws was a key for Harmony, it proved fatal down the stretch for the Panthers. Down by two with two minutes to go, Yangel Mapica missed the front end of a one-and-one and Aiden Lake would miss two free throws that would have drew Gateway back to two with a minute remaining.
“Certainly proud of how we battle back,” Gateway head coach Travis James said. “But poor shooting has been a real issue for us early in the season. We miss a few shots and you see the kids drop their heads and then they start passing up open shots they should be taking. We are a young, inexperienced team but it’s something that we can correct.
Cervantes led Gateway with 12, Malpica chipped in 11 for the Panthers. Both teams have games on Wednesday night, with Harmony hosting St. Cloud and Gateway traveling to Celebration.