In a game where they never trailed, the Osceola Kowboys needed a couple of huge plays in the final minute and more than a little luck to ward off upset-minded Gateway and collect a 54-53 road win on Thursday night.
The win set up today’s (Friday) battle of undefeated teams, as Osceola (7-0) hosts Olympia (7-0) at Kowboys Gym. Tipoff is 7:30 p.m.
“I felt we may have had a little more talent but I am certainly not surprised that we had to fight and claw for a win tonight,” Osceola head coach Steve Mason said. “Travis (Coach Travis James) always has his kids ready to play us. We were fortunate to come away with a win.”
Osceola used a pressing defense to jump out to a 20-11 lead after one quarter, but the Kowboy shooters would grow cold in the second period and Dimas Cervantes would key a 14-point period by the Panthers with seven points as Gateway closed the gap to 25-24 at intermission.
“We were still putting on the pressure but we were not finishing plays at the basket,” Mason said. “We’re a pressing team and you expend a lot of energy playing that style. When you create turnovers and get fast breaks you need to convert those into points and we didn’t do a great job of that tonight.”
The Kowboys would extend the lead to as many as nine in the third period, but Gateway again would fight back to again cut the gap to two at 39-37 with a minute to go in the period. After the teams each missed shots, Sean Combs hit a three at the buzzer to extend the lead back to five at 42-37.
Jeremy Valez and Yangel Malpica combined for 10 points in the fourth quarter and when Zalez hit a layup with 3:07 remaining Gateway had its first tie of the night at 50-50. Tyler Newsome and Chris Combs would hit baskets to push the lead to 54-50, but Cervantes drilled a three-ball to cut the gap to 53-53 with 1:01 remaining.
This is where the big plays and luck came in to play for Osceola.
After a Gateway steal, Jorden Birmingham appeared headed for a go-ahead layup but Sean Combs came up with a huge block at the basket to keep Osceola in the lead.
The luck came in with 19 seconds to go when Osceola’s Cory Vega was called for a foul with two seconds left to send Cervantes to the line with two free throws. One of the better free throw shooters on the Panthers team, Cervantes had made his last 10 attempts including all four previous attempts in this game, but missed both attempts. Sean Combs battled underneath and came up with the huge rebound as Osceola held on for the win.
Vega had an outstanding game on the boards, scoring eight of his team-high 13 points off of offensive rebounds. “He definitely came up big for us tonight,” Mason said. “That’s the football desire in him, he’s barely six foot tall but played like he was 6-6 tonight.”
Chris and Sean Combs also hit double figures, scoring 12 and 10 points each.
For Gateway, which fell to 6-4 on the season, Cervantes led all scorers with 18; while Velez added 11 and Malpica had 10. “I was really proud of our effort tonight,” James said of his team. “We sort of got into a track meet with them in the first period and we knew that was a mistake. We settled down and got back into the game.”
Still, James knew this was a game his team could have won. “We talk about it all the time, the little things will make the difference. You need to take care of the ball and you need to make your foul shots. At the end of the game, we didn’t do those little things you need to do to win.”
The Panthers return to action by participating in a couple of Holiday Tournaments during the Christmas break.