Dan Pearson
By:  J Daniel Pearson

As the Christmas break approaches, the winter sports calendar remained crowded for the county’s high school athletes. A look at sports around Osceola County:

Osceola hosted the Danny Byron Memorial tournament over the past weekend and came away with two Gold Bracket (Championship bracket) winners in the prestigious 22-team tournament that featured top competitors from Florida and Georgia.

Individuals in each weight class wrestled in one of three brackets on Friday to determine Saturday’s seeding. The top two wrestlers in each bracket advanced to Saturday’s Gold Bracket, while third through fifth place wrestlers participated in the secondary Blue Bracket and wrestlers finished sixth or lower wrestled in the White Bracket. Saturday’s final in the Gold Bracket was a round robin tournament – which required five wins to guarantee a first place finish.

Anderson Heap won the title at 120 to move his season record to 11-0; while Cooper Haase (12-0) also remained undefeated by taking the 138-lb. title. Haase, the Class 3A State Champion last year, put on a dominating show at the Byron, recording three pins. His closest match on the final day was a 17-8 major decision over Freedom’s Eric Aja.

Heap easily won his first four matches but found himself in a dogfight in his last bout, facing two-time Georgia State Champion Riley Dahlgren. Heap trailed 1-0 after two periods, but had choice and elected to start the third period in a neutral position. Halfway through the final period, Heap got a takedown and then controlled top position for the rest of the match to take a 2-1 win.

“Great effort and a very significant win for Anderson,” Osceola Head Coach Jim Bird said. “He wrestled a fantastic and smart match.”

In addition to the two champions, Osceola had Jomar Sanchez finish third and Gunner Holland fourth in the championship bracket.

“We don’t really worry too much about finishes at this tournament because we often have guys wrestling in weight classes different from what they will participate in during the state series, but this is a fantastic early-season tournament for gaining valuable experience. If you make the Gold Bracket on Saturday, you know you are going to face five hammers (i.e. quality opponents),” Bird said.

Gateway, Celebration and Poinciana also participated in the two-day event but failed to advance any wrestlers in the Gold Bracket. The top performers from those schools include Poinciana’s Landon Trigueros, who went 5-0 on Saturday to take first place at 105 in the Blue Bracket and Gateway’s Hector Perez, who recorded three pins in taking first in the 152-lb. White Bracket. Gateway had a big day Saturday, taking third place finishes in the White Bracket at 106 (Talyn Fisk), 132 (Jessiah Glass), and 145 (Meison Broche). Osceola also had a podium finisher in the Blue Bracket at 138 in Bryan Gari.

Harmony competed in the 30-team “Fit 2 Win” Tournament in Clearwater over the weekend. The Longhorns (197) finished an impressive second in the tournament to North Port (208).

Top performers for Harmony included JC McNichols, who went undefeated in winning at 138 and Nelson Toro, who recorded two pins and two major decisions in easily winning at 220. In all, the Longhorns showed solid depth in scoring points in 11 different weight classes.

An interesting twist most likely cost Harmony the team title. If bracket space existed, teams were permitted to enter more than one wrestler in each weight class but had to designate just a single wrestler for team scoring.

At 126, Harmony entered two wrestlers but designated Kade Toner as their scoring wrestler and junior Ray Ortiz as a non-scoring at large wrestler. As it turns out, Toner placed a respectable 6th in the tournament and scored 13 team points but Ortiz turned in a shocking performance with four pins and a technical fall to finish on top of the class.

“Kade has been our number one all season and certainly earned the position,” Head Coach Vic Lorenzano said. “But Rey really came into his own this weekend. Yes, if he was the designated wrestler for the event, we would have probably won the team title, but the important thing is we now know we have two talented kids and now we have to figure out how to get them both in the lineup.”

Boys’ Basketball
Osceola remained undefeated at 5-0 with a 73-33 win over Liberty and a 73-53 win over Haines City. Chris Combs scored 15 in the Liberty win, while Sean Combs added 12. Steve Mason’s squad has three big games this week, hosting Celebration on Monday, facing rival Gateway on the road on Thursday, before hosting a difficult match-up with Olympia (6-0) on Friday in what could be a battle of undefeated teams. “We continue to improve each day,” Mason said. “This is a big week for us. Gateway is a rivalry game and they always play us tough. If we are fortunate enough to get by Celebration and the Panthers, the Olympia game is going to be a huge challenge for us. They are one of the top teams in the region but those are games you want to play in. It will tell us where we stand right now.”

Harmony won two of three games last week to push their record to 5-3, Miguel Tirado (12.7) and Rafael Balines (11.1) were both averaging double points for the Longhorns. Gateway found itself with a 4-2 record at week’s end with both losses coming by just two points to Master’s Academy and Tohopekaliga, which checks in with a 3-4 mark. The Tigers were getting 13.5 points per game from Josh Camejo. After a 3-1 start, Celebration had fell to .500 with a pair of losses last week to Colonial (54-42) and Lyman (57-53). The Storm was getting 12.3 points a game from Mitchell Sparks.

Girls’ Basketball
St. Cloud has won three of four to get to 4-3 on the season. A pair of sophomores — Emily Lockley (13.5) and Haley Collins (10.5) — was leading the Lady Bulldogs in scoring. After a hot 5-0 start, Gateway has lost three straight, dropping games to Cocoa (49-33), Central Florida Christian Academy (56-46) and Hagerty (67-64). Poinciana was also 4-2.

Boy’s Soccer
Celebration has allowed just two goals this season and was undefeated at 5-0-3, but those that record included a somewhat disappointing 0-0 tie with St. Cloud (2-3-2), where the Storm dominated in possession and shots on goals but could not find the back of the net. Edgar Marquez had five goals for Celebration this year; while three other Storm players had three goals each. Harmony (4-3-1) will host the Storm this Monday after winning their two games this past week over Osceola (8-0) and Gateway (2-0).

Girls’ Soccer
Harmony (4-2-1) remained undefeated in county games, knocking off Liberty 9-0 last week. In four games against Liberty, Poinciana, Celebration and Gateway, the Longhorns have outscored schools from Osceola, 33-1 this year.