Dan PearsonBy:  J. Daniel Pearson
For Positively Osceola

As spring sports head towards the post-season, the big news from the past week came off the field as Celebration football coach Rich Pringle stepped down to accept the same position at Lake Gibson, where he served the 2019-20 seasons as that school’s defensive coordinator.

On the field, Osceola’s baseball team took a long winning streak into this week’s play, Celebration girls lacrosse earned a first round home regional game and Harmony’s girls’ flag football team continued its fine season as it geared up for the playoffs.

A look around the county:

A large contingent of county athletes will be at Port St. Joe in the Florida panhandle on Thursday for the 2022 FHSAA State Weightlifting Championship Meet. St. Cloud High, which won Orange Belt, District, and Regional titles in both the Traditional (Clean-and-Jerk / Bench Press) and Snatch competitions, will be sending 16 total lifters to the competition, 12 of which have qualified for the snatch and 10 who will participate in the traditional. St. Cloud’s Julian Sykes (152 weight class) has been dominant all seasonlong and will be the favorite in his weight class to win double gold. Syke’s teammates Nathanael Combs (169), Noah Carr (199), along with Harmony’s Isaac Balado (129) and Daniel Watson (219) could make bids to place high on the podium; as could Tohopekaliga’s Pete Rodriquez who won district and regional titles at 238. Harmony has qualified seven lifters for the state meet.

Fresh off a victory in the first Orange Belt Conference championship tournament, the Osceola Kowboys found themselves riding an eight-game winning streak (15-4 overall), heading in to this week’s action. Osceola will be challenged this week with a pair of tough games, as they host Lakeland (15-4) on Monday and a solid Winter Haven team (14-7) on Wednesday. In between they will travel to Bartow on Tuesday to face the Yellow Jackets (6-13). A trio of seniors is leading the Kowboys. Blake Birchler was hitting .439 with 20 runs scored, closer Chris Palmi was 3-0 with three saves and 0.60 ERA; while Danny Ramirez was doing it both on the mound as the team’s ace (5-0, 1.01 ERA) and at the plate (.333 batting average with a team leading 19 RBI and 8 extra base hits).

In addition to playing a difficult schedule, Harmony (8-10) was without its best pitcher, as junior Caden Scarborough (1-1, 2.62 ERA) – had not pitched since injuring his arm eight pitches into the game against The First Academy on Mar. 22. Cade Walter (.579) continues to be one of the top hitters in the state. Behind a .478 average from sophomore Edwardo Diaz, Liberty took a 10-7 mark into this week’s play. Tohopekaliga found itself with a 7-6 mark, with Justin Diaz leading the team with a .579 average. Celebration (6-9) was being led by senior Aiden Fernandez (.311) and freshman sensation Ciro Yanez, who was hitting a team-leading .341 heading into this week’s play. A pair of juniors, Jorge Vicioso (.289) and Ben Segura (.270), are the leading hitters for St. Cloud (4-14). Gateway entered the week with a 2- 10 mark; while Poinciana was 1-8. Yamil DeJesus (.360) leads the Panthers in hitting; while Jean Cotto (.368) was the top batsman for the Eagles.

Two weeks remain in the regular season before district playoffs begin May 2.

Celebration lost its football coach late last week, when Rich Pringle resigned to become the new head coach at Lake Gibson. Pringle was the defensive coordinator at Lake Gibson when he was named head coach of the Storm last spring. In his one season, he lifted Celebration to new heights, as the Storm won a school record-tying seven games and had just its second winning season in school history. Pringle replaces Keith Barfield, who was 8-4 in his one season at Lake Gibson. “I’m excited but the timing was hard. It was a rough decision to make because I didn’t want to leave Celebration in a lurch. But I moved around a lot, my family moved around, being former military. When I came to Lake Gibson three years ago, it just felt like home to me,” Pringle said.

“Obviously this just happened and we need to navigate our way through it,” Celebration Athletic Director Rick Tribit said. “We will come up with a plan this week on whether we will name an interim head coach or look for a permanent replacement.”

The Storm will have solid talent returning from last year’s 7-4 team – including Oniel Senatus, the county’s two-way player of the year.

With a 13-0 win over Poinciana, the Harmony Longhorns (11-1 overall) wrapped up the Orange Belt Conference championship with a perfect 7-0 record in round robin play. Harmony is currently ranked 27th in the state and its only loss this season came to #12 Martin County on the road by a 13-0 score. District tournament begin April 27, where Cypress Creek (10-0) and county-rivals St. Cloud (8-5) and Poinciana (6-3) are expected to challenge for a trip to regionals.

Two weeks remain in the regular season as teams continue to battle for district seeding. Harmony (10-3) has locked up the OBC Championship as they are 5-0 in round robin competition. Sophomore Aurielle Reavis leads the Longhorns in hitting with a .652 average (30 of 51) and also tops the team in RBI (18) and extra base hits (8). Ray Whobrey’s St. Cloud team overcame a relatively slow 4-3 start and has won six of seven to push the Bulldogs record to 12-6. Senior Hannah Nasco is hitting .565 for St. Cloud. Osceola’s Nayeli Hernandez was hitting .475 for the Kowboys (4-11); while sophomore Yasmin Elaraj was batting a robust .625 (20 of 32) with a team-leading 20 RBI and 9 extra base hits for Liberty (6-6). Behind the play of freshman Aidalee Vargas (.435, 11 RBI, 4 extra base hits), Randy Beeken’s Poinciana Eagles were above .500 – taking a 9-8 mark into this week’s play. District tournaments start May 2.

By vitue of runner-up District 10 finishes, both the Celebration boys (10-5-1) and Girls (10-6) tennis teams advance to this week’s FHSAA Class 4A Regionals. It will be a tall order for the Storm, as both squads will face outstanding Lake Nona teams. Considered two of the top teams in the state, both Lions boys and girls teams went 17-0 this year — and both own 7-0 wins over the Storm during the regular season. The matches are scheduled for Tuesday at the United States Tennis Academy in Lake Nona.

All of the boys and girls teams in the county will be taking their first steps towards qualifying for FHSAA State Championship as District meets begin this week. OBC Champion Harmony, Osceola and St. Cloud will travel to Stuart for the Class 4A, District 10 Championships. Celebration and Poinciana will be at George Jenkins in Lakeland for the 4A, District 5 meet; while Liberty and Gateway will compete in 3A, District 8 meet, also hosted by George Jenkins. Tohopekaliga will host several Orange County schools in the Class 4A, District 9 Championships.

To advance to regional competition, athletes must finish in the top four of their respective events.

With less than two weeks left in the regular season, the Celebration Storm (14-2, 5-0) have secured the top seed and a first-round bye for the Class 1A, District 11 Tournament that begins April 25 at St. Cloud High. St. Cloud (15-6, 4-2) will be the second seed. Harmony (7-10), Poinciana (6-6), and Tohopekaliga (8-5) will also participate in the tournament.