When Osceola and Poinciana last met, the Kowboys coasted to a 58-43 win five weeks ago.
There was no coasting in Friday’s Orange Belt Conference championship game. In fact, OHS needed a sprint to the finish just to get the win.
Senior Armani Thomas — the only returning starter from last year’s Class 9A state champ Kowboy squad — hit a pair of huge three-pointers in the fourth quarter to help erase a 10-point deficit with 7:33 left and pull out a 50-47 victory.
A clutch three-ball with a defender in his face with 1:47 left put OHS (16-4) up 46-43, its first lead since midway through the first quarter. Thomas scored 10 of his 14 points in the fourth quarter.
“We knew if we would rebound, play hard and stay in it, we knew we could come back,” said Thomas, who also added six rebounds and two blocks. “We just didn’t feel like losing the tournament.”
Coach Nate Alexander said this is usually the time of year when a lull sets in, so a county tournament came just at the right time.
“These weeks (ahead of the district tournament) are the time to get better, so this one was huge,” he said.
“Our game plan was simple, if we box out and hold (PHS) to one shot we’d be hard to beat. But those guys played hard to the end, we just hit the big shots down the stretch.”
Thomas and sophomore Christian Combs, who also had a big fourth quarter (seven of his 14 points) both found a passing gear late.
“That’s huge for them and the team,” Alexander said.
Despite no field goals in the first six minutes of the game, Poinciana (11-9) lead 9-5 after one quarter and stretched it to double-digits behind Luis Pena (13 points, 14 rebounds) in the second quarter. It took a Josh Blazquez three-pointer before the buzzer to make it 27-21 at at the half.
The Eagles stretched the lead to 39-32 at the end on the third quarter, and Manny Centeno’s third pointer to start the fourth made it 42-32 before Osceola began its furious comeback; after an 11-1 run it was tied at 43 with 2:27 left.
In the third-place game, Celebration (9-10), who came into the tournament seeded fifth, capped a 2-1 week with a 54-50 win over Gateway (8-10). Angel Cotto led the Storm with 15 points and Joshnel Marte added 13. Blade Acevedo’s 16 led the Panthers.
On Thursday, St. Cloud defeated Harmony in the fifth-place game, and Tohopekaliga beat Liberty in the seventh place game.