By:  J. Daniel Pearson for Positively Osceola

It certainly was not easy for either team, but the Osceola Kowboys and Harmony Longhorns will meet for the FHSAA Class 7A, District 6 Championship.  The title game is the rematch of the 2023 district championship game and will be held Saturday at a neutral site — Lake Nona High.

“I felt all season long Osceola and Harmony were the best two teams in the district and it certainly has played out that way,” Longhorns coach Duke Leonardo said.  “But I also knew we both were going to have to fight on our hands to get there and that was also the case.”

The top-seed in the district, Harmony (21-5) earned its way into the title game with a hard-fought 55-52 win over host Lake Nona (6-20).  Third-seeded Osceola (13-11) got there with an equally close, 58-54 win over #2 Poinciana.

“Despite the Lions record, I knew it was going to be tough sledding tonight,” Leonardo said.  “They beat us earlier this year and they are a big, strong team that had a bunch of tough losses this year.  On top of that, we were missing our big tonight (center Sylus Cory-Injury) and that made it more difficult.”

Harmony would miss its first seven shots of the game, but still rallied to take an 11-9 lead after one period.  Senior Vlad Torrado would then take over in the second period.  The team captain would score 12 points, grab four rebounds and make three steals in the period to lead the Longhorns to a 31-21 halftime lead.

They would extend the lead to 12 in the third period, but Lake Nona would not go away.  

The Lions would go on a 16-4 run to start the quarter – as the Longhorn lead shrunk to two, 52-50.  Lake Nona would then have a chance to take the lead after a steal, but a three-point attempt just missed.  Ivan Ramos would then hit one of two free throws to make it a 53-50 game, but the Lions Connor Corris hit a bucket with 13 second remaining to cut the lead back to one.

With 10 seconds left, Jeremy Penner was fouled.  He would make both free throws and a potential game tying shot fell short as Harmony held on for the win.  It was a total team effort for the Longhorns (21-5).   Torrado and Penner had 15 each, Noah Tribe and Ivan Ramos added eight each.  Lake Nona’s Corris led all scorers with 19, Tyler Mills had nine.

Osceola appears to be getting both healthy and hot at the right time, as they won their fifth straight in the opener.  “We had a great week of practice and I think everything we have been working towards is starting to click,” Osceola coach Steve Mason said.  

Osceola did little wrong against the Eagles, shooting a blistering 62% (24-39) for the game.  After a slow start, Jordan Mundle would score seven points in the first quarter to help stake Osceola to an 18-12 lead.  They extended the lead to 10 at the half by using a tight zone that limited Poinciana to just one field goal (1 for 11 shooting) in the second period.

But foul trouble and allowing Poinciana to dominate the offensive glass almost got the Kowboys in trouble.  Although they limited the Eagles to just three total field goals in the second and third periods (3 for 19 shooting), they sent Poinciana to the line 22 times.  The Eagles made 14 of those shots and trailed by just 10 at the end of three, 45-35.

A big three by Jordan Isaac spurred a 16-7 run in the fourth, as Poinciana pulled to within one, 52-51.  But Mason Fontaine would throw in a rainbow three to put the lead back to four at 55-51.  “I really wanted us to work the ball inside and try to draw a foul or get a layup,” Mason said.  “When Mason launched that three I was sort of going ‘…no,’ but then it went in.  He seems to have a flair for making those bombs when we need them the most.  No question the play probably won the game for us.”  

Fontaine would then hit two free throws to extend the lead to 57-51, but the Eagles were not quite done.  Devin Williams bombed a three from the top of the key to make it a three point game with five seconds left. But Osceola successfully inbounded the pass and Helio Quinan would hit one of two free throws to put the game away.”

“We knew this was going to be a tough game,” Mason added. “Coach Walls (Poinciana coach Criag Walls) does such a fantastic job with his team.  He had them ready to go tonight.  It was tough down the stretch but I thought we kept our composure.” Luke McCrimon led Osceola with 20 points, Jordan Mundle added 13 and Fontaine had nine – all in the second half.  Isaac led Poinciana with 17, Williams had 14.

Barring an at-large regional bid, the loss derailed what had been a promising season for the 15-8 Eagles, who played the game without injured forward Daniel Melendez.  “Melendez’s injury certainly hurt us tonight,” Walls noted.  “I feel really bad for our kids because I think they were a regional worthy team.  We got off to a slow start tonight but came on strong and had a chance to win this game. Still I was very proud of how this team fought to the end.”

It will be the second consecutive year the Kowboys and Longhorns have met for the district title.  Although Osceola has dominated the county basketball scene for more than a decade, Harmony has won four of the last six against the Kowboys.   “Given our recent history, I am glad we are facing them in the finals,” Mason said.  “We’re an extremely young team and this is another challenge we have to get over to continue our maturation.”

In other action Thursday night, St. Cloud dropped a 57-46 decision to Bartow in the Class 6A, District 7 semifinals.  The Bulldogs now will wait to see if their 19-6 record is enough to warrant a regional at-large bid.