Dan PearsonBy:  J. Daniel Pearson
For Positively Osceola

Great defense, solid pitching timely hitting and taking advantage of opponents mistakes are usually a recipe for victory and the Osceola Kowboys got all four of those in an 8-3 win over top-seeded and host St. Cloud in the Orange Belt Conference Softball Championship game on Friday night.

Osceola, 11-8 on the season, reached the championship game with 12-6 win over Liberty in the quarterfinals on Monday and a 11-4 road win over second-seeded Harmony in the semifinals.  “I am really proud of this team,” Osceola Coach Miranda Watford said.  “Tonight, we got great pitching and defense, moved runners over when we had to and got some timely hits.  We sort of got into a lull in the middle of the season, but to win this tournament and beating our arch-rivals in the championship game, is a huge positive step as we get ready for districts.”

The key hits came at the top of lineup as Nayeli Hernandez, Jodee Matos and Gabriella Avila combined for five hits, six runs and six RBI.  The pitching came from junior Alexis Miranda, who pitched a complete game, scattering seven hits.  The Osceola defense played error free ball, turned a double play and made several sensation plays in the field. As far as taking advantage of opponents mistakes, Osceola scored two unearned runs in both the first and second innings to build a 4-0 lead.  

“I can’t say enough about the game Alexis pitched for us,” Watford said.  “She was not overpowering but she placed the ball well and got a ton of ground ball outs.”  For the contest, she allowed seven hits, walked three batters and hit two others, but stayed out of trouble by getting keeping the ball in the infield.  Eighteen of the 21 outs were recorded in the infield on 14 ground ball outs, two weak pop-outs and two strike outs.

Osceola would jump on top 2-0 in the top of the first, taking advantage of a Hernandez single, an error on a sacrificed bunt and back-to-back sacrifice flies by Avila and Kaylee Jones.  They upped the lead to 4-0 in the second inning on an error and single, followed by a two-run single by Hernandez.  

All four Osceola runs in the first two innings were unearned.  “Our starting pitcher (Freshman Addison Felblinger) had some outstanding stuff at the beginning of the game,” St. Cloud head coach Ray Whobrey said.  “We made some mistakes behind her and Osceola took advantage of them.  It’s something that is going to happen from time-to-time when you are starting a young lineup like ours.” Overall, the Bulldogs started four freshman and two sophomores.

St. Cloud would counter with two runs in the bottom of the second, including a long solo home run by sophomore Gracelyn Watford, but Osceola came right back with two of their own in the top of the fourth with an RBI triple by Matos and a wild pitch. “That was a big inning for us,” Osceola coach Miranda Watford said.  “Being able to answer and get those two runs back seemed to relax us.”

Any chance of an Osceola comeback was quelled late in the game.  Miranda got out of a two-on, two-out jam in the sixth by striking out Brianna Costa and her teammates added two more runs to cushion the lead on Avila’s massive two-run homer to left-center field in the top of the seventh.

Osceola’s win gave them a season-split with the Bulldogs, after they lost 7-4 in nine innings back on Mar. 21.  The Kowboys and Bulldogs are both in Class 7A, but are in different districts and could meet in regional play if they advance out of districts. 

“We sort of had a lull in the middle of the season, but we have played better of late,” Watford said of her team that has now won four in a row and six of their last eight.  “Hopefully we can use this tournament as a spring board to gain some momentum going into the final two weeks of the regular season.”

The Kowboys return to action next Wednesday at Lyman (9-7); St. Cloud has a pair of home games against East River (4/19) and Lake Howell (4/21).