Dan PearsonBy:  J. Daniel Pearson

As the last winter sports concluded with several FHSAA State Championships last week, spring sports kicked into full gear with baseball, softball, tennis, boys volleyball, weight lifting, lacrosse, girls beach volleyball, and track and field all gearing up.

And although most teams are taking this week off for spring break, Osceola and Harmony’s baseball teams are participating in spring baseball tournaments.  A look around the county:

BASEBALL:  A lopsided loss to Osceola has been the only setback on Tohopekaliga’s record, as the Tigers are off to a 6-1 start this season.   Sophomore Hudson Moberly (.600 batting average) and junior Deric Cruz Jr. (.533) have been the top offensive players for the Tigers; while pitcher Jose Mantalvo has a 2-0 mark and a 1.70 ERA.  The 6-1 start is the best ever for Tohopekaliga, who went 22-40 in their first four seasons and had their only winning record last year with a 10-9 mark.  

After winning their first three games, the Kowboys fell to 4-3 on the season with losses to district foe Lake Nona, state power Monteverde Academy and rival Harmony.  Jason Ramos (.368, 8 RBI), Nick Palmi (.368. 8 R, 4 RBI) and Louis Rodriguez (.364, 1 HR, 5 RBI) are the Kowboys leading hitters; while Michelangelo Cruz (2-0, 2.27 ERA has been solid on the mound for Osceola.  Osceola will not be taking the week off for spring break as they will participate in a tournament in Winter Haven, Fla.  

Playing a difficult schedule, Harmony found itself at 2-5 this season but had a big win over Osceola.  Junior Cade Walter (.389) and sophomore Sam Castillo (.304) were leading the Longhorn offense heading into this week’s O-Town National Classic.  After wins over Harmony and Liberty, St. Cloud fell to 3-4 on the season with a hard-fought 2-0 loss to Winter Haven.  The Bulldogs, who will be off for spring break, are being led offensively by senior Ben Segura who is sporting a.462 batting average.  

Ed Kuzma’s Celebration team is off to a solid 5-2 start, outscoring opposition 55-18.  The Storm, who will also be off this week for spring break, is led by junior Alejandro Hernandez, who is hitting at a blistering .615 clip (16 hits in 26 AB).  A pair of one-run losses this year finds Liberty at 3-3 at the start of spring break.  Seniors Jaydalier Aponte (.391) and Kenai Crespo (.375) were off to hot offensive starts with the Chargers.  Gateway (0-5) and Poinciana (0-4) will take spring break off to regroup as they both are searching for their first win of the season.

This Week’s Baseball Games:

Mar. 13 Osceola vs. Inspiration Academy (Bradenton) at Winter Haven

Harmony vs. The First Academy at O-Town Classic

Mar. 14 Osceola vs. Valor Christian (Colorado) at Winter Haven

Harmony vs. Ponderosa (Colorado) at O-Town Classic

Mar. 15 Osceola vs. Auburndale at Winter Haven

Harmony vs. Apopka at O-Town Classic

FLAG FOOTBALL:  Seven-time OBC Champion Harmony (4-1) is off to a solid start this season, but look for several teams including St. Cloud (2-1), Osceola (3-1) and Liberty (3-0) as potential challengers to their crown this year.  All eight county teams are off for spring break this week.  Among Harmony’s wins this year was a 7-6 thriller over always tough Dr. Phillips.  Among the top players in the county this year are Drea Thompson (SR, WR & Safety),  Martha Edwards (SO, QB)  and Alex Ceballos (JR, LB & WR) for the Longhorns; and Delia Macdonald (SR., Receiver),  Vanessa Vohs (So., QB) Priscilla Rodriguez (So., Receiver) and Karen Prado (Sr., Receiver) for the Bulldogs.  The OBC Tournament is scheduled for the week of March 23-28.

FOOTBALL:  Osceola HS defensive back Jayden Bradford has committed to Florida State University, where he will participate as a “preferred” walk-on this fall.  The freshman will enroll with the Seminoles after an outstanding career at Osceola.  A key player in Osceola’s run to a regional championship, Bradford had 26 tackles, led the Kowboys with eight batted down passes and tied Florida signee Ja’Keem Jackson for the team lead in interceptions with five.  Bradford joins Jackson (Florida), Bo Mascoe (Rutgers), John Walker (UCF), Jimarion McCrimon (East Carolina), Derrick Leblanc (Oklahoma) as the six 2023 Kowboys seniors who will be playing Division-1 football next fall.


A pair of St. Cloud golfers will be continuing their careers at the collegiate level.  Boys’ County Player of the Year Gunner Green has signed his letter of intent to play compete at Central Alabama College next year; while the Osceola County Girls’ Player of the Year Jenna Barnett will sign this week with Eastern Florida State College. 


With only three county teams sponsoring the sport, lacrosse is not point event in the race for the Orange Belt Conference “All Sports” trophy.  Celebration, the first Osceola school to sponsor the sport, is 5-1 on the girls’ side; while the Storm boys team is 3-4.  Abigeal Locker (45 goals) and Ayla Moffitt (29), a pair of sophomores, have combined for 74 goals for the Storm.   Zerek Zelmanski leads the Storm boys with 23 goals.   The Tohopekaliga boys are 6-3 on the season; while the Tigers’ girls’ team is 4-1 to date with both teams off to winning starts.  Nathan Llemsky (25) and Ayden Lightner (20) have combined for 45 goals for the Tigers; while the girls’ team is led by Lauren Schira (25 goals).   St. Cloud, in its first year of competition, has struggled on the boys’ side (0-9) but the girls’ team has a respectable 4-6 mark led by Morgan VanAucklen’s 14 goals. 


With all county teams off for spring break this week, Osceola, Poinciana, and St. Cloud have all posted 4-3 records to date; while Tohopekaliga is at .500 with a 3-3 mark.  Early standouts for Osceola have included Jodee Matos (.565 batting average) and pitcher Alexis Miranda (4-2, 3.88 ERA). Heading into spring break, Poinciana was hitting .504 as a team with Alondra Lozada (.778 BA) leading the way.  With three wins early in the season, Chantal Schuster’s Tohopekaliga team is just one win away from tying the school record for wins in a season (4-19 in 2019) and is off to its best start in school history.  The Tigers were 8-60 in their first four years of competition. Playing an extremely difficult schedule, Harmony was off to 1-3 mark, which included a dramatic come-from-behind win over St. Cloud.


Between the boys and girls teams, Celebration has claimed 14 of the last 20 Orange Belt Conference titles and while the Storm will once again be among the favorites on both sides, several other teams look to challenge for county supremacy.  

On the boys’ side, Celebration is off to a great start with an 8-0 record.  Owen Wheelock (6-1) and Caymer Pearce (8-0) lead the way individually for the Storm, whose toughest match came in the season opener – a 4-3 win over Bishop Moore.  Overall, Celebration has won 46 of 54 matches this season (singles and doubled combined).  

St. Cloud (2-2), Gateway (4-3), and Harmony (1-1) were at .500 or better heading into spring break.   On the girls’ side, Celebration (7-1) appears headed for a showdown with Gateway (8-0) on March 30.  Celebration is led by Valerina Lopez, who is 5-0 playing out of #1 singles and 5-0 out of #1 doubles.   Gateway’s  Danara Marcos in 8-0 out of the #1 singles spot; while sisters Anaila  and Aurelia Cooks are 8-0 and 7-1 respectively out of the number 2 and 3 singles spots.  Overall, the Panthers have won 57 of 59 singles and doubles matches in staying undefeated.  Osceola (8-3) and Harmony (2-0) are also off to positive starts.


Twenty teams competed in the Kowboy Invitational this past week.  Host Osceola had a solid performance, placing second in the girls competition (58) behind winning school Boone (67).  In the boys competition, Star Mills won (90), Osceola (54) was fourth, and Harmony (29) came in ninth.  In all, six of the eight county teams sent representatives to the meet.  Among the event winners were Harmony’s Joel Jean in the 3200-meter run (9:30.21); the Harmony Girls’ 4 x 800 relay team of Brynn Magner, Rebekah Wiles, Lailana Decker and Shelby Fertic (10:05.11), Harmony’s Drea Thompson in the high jump (5’- 3 ¾”) and the Osceola boys 4 x 100 relay team of Taevion Swint, Alijah Jenkins, Jakari Watson and Henley Placide (43.43).  The Kowboys girls 4 x 100 relay team of Zanaya Bright Quanaya Jenkins Kadreah Varnado Shannon Levy took a first in 49.28.  Osceola’s David Buggs (133’-7”) took a second in the discus, Kowboy teammate Shannon Levy was second in the girls’ 100 meter dash (12.55) and Tohopekaliga’s Johan Comacho was second in the 1600 meter run (4:31.85).


The boys volleyball season got underway two weeks ago.   St. Cloud (2-0) and Tohopekaliga (2-0) are both undefeated; while Harmony and Poinciana check in with 2-1 identical records.


Girls wrestling just finished its second year of official sanctioning by the FHSAA.  And at the state finals last week, Osceola’s  Kealoni Vega became the first girl from Osceola County to win an official state title when she pinned all four of her opponents to win the 100-lb. weight class.  Vega, who missed her entire junior year with a severe knee injury, has signed a college scholarship to wrestle for Gannon College in Pennsylvania.