St. Cloud won its first regional playoff match since 2000 with a convincing three-set victory Wednesday at home against Winter Haven in the Class 6A quarterfinals.
The news was not as good Wednesday for Osceola, who fell in five grueling sets against Steinbrenner in a Class 7A match, and Gateway, a 5A wild-card who ran into buzzsaw Ocala Vanguard.
With the win, St. Cloud (20-4) will host Valrico Bloomingdale in the regional semifinals on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Facing Winter Haven (19-8), the third-best team from District 6A-10 but the sixth-best in Region 3, the Bulldogs made statements early and often in the 25-14, 25-10, 25-20. The attack, as usual, came from everywhere on the floor. St. Cloud racked up 11 service aces, and with their pounding attack took leads of 16-9 in the first two games; Kaylee Tutor served out the last seven points of the second set.
Tutor, sister Abbie, and Jazmin Santiago, Paige Alise and Eno Inyang were forces at the net. Jecenys Martinez, Brooke Singleton and Yeishlanie Reyes held down the back line on defense.
The lopsided score was more a reflection.
“Our district had four of the top teams in the region, and three of them qualified,” Coach Ettie Singleton said. “It came from all over the floor. Once we slowed down the pace a little we played better. We may have a little more in us, and we’ll need it the rest of the way.”
Alise and Inyang were on the girls basketball team last year that won their region and went to the state tournament, so they had experience in do-or-die playoff games that the rest of the team didn’t, and they said the rest of the team leaned on what they learned.
“The other girls asked us how we handled the pressure. We just said to feel confident in what you do and play your game. It felt like we did that (Wednesday),” Inyang said.
Said Alise: “We went in feeling just confident enough in our game to feel comfortable. We knew how we wanted to play.”
Osceola (25-2) took just its second loss of the season, but at the worst time. The Kowboys won the first two sets against
Steinbrenner, 25-21, 25-17, but could only watch as the Warriors (22-5) stormed back to take the next three, 25-21, 25-19, 15-13.
Osceola senior Allison Palmi, who leaves OHS as the county’s career kills leader, added 24 more Wednesday, including seven in the final set.
Gateway finished its season 14-12 with a 25-21, 25-18, 25-20 loss to Ocala Vanguard, last year’s Class 7A state champion, in the 5A regionals. The Panthers played Merritt Island, the defending 6A champs, in the District 5A-11 title match.