By:  J. Daniel Pearson for Positively Osceola

On paper, it looked like a Thursday night’s OBC semifinal matchup between second-seeded St. Cloud (15-6) and third seeded Tohopekaliga (11-1) could be a close game.  

But paper and reality turned out to be two totally different things as the Lady Bulldogs hit their first five shots of the game, built a big lead and cruised to a 63-30 win over the Lady Tigers.

The win sends St. Cloud into tomorrow night’s championship game against top-seeded Gateway, who also faced little resistance in their 52-21 semifinal win over Celebration.   The championship game will be a neutral site affair at Tohopekaliga at 7 p.m.  The game will be preceded by a 5 p.m. third place game between the Tigers and Celebration.

St. Cloud came out smoking hot in the game against the Tigers.  

Senior captain Emily Lockey nailed her first two shots from 3-point land – scoring 12 points in the quarter – as St. Cloud jumped out to a 27-6 lead after one.  Lockey did not miss a shot in the period and also had four rebounds, three steals and a pair of assists in the quarter.

But Lockey was not the only one with a hot hand.  Arianna Viera had a pair of threes and Danigzy Mantilla and Vanessa Vors added threes, as St. Cloud made 10 of 16 field goals in the period – including six from beyond the arc.

“When your team is hitting from the outside from the start, it makes you look like a pretty smart coach,” St. Cloud’s Chad Ansbaugh said.  “But seriously, I liked our intensity from the beginning.  Our point guard Danzy (Mantilla) is probably our best shooter and I’m not ever sure she scored tonight (she had 7). Instead she was out there making that extra pass all game long.”

St. Cloud would add 21 more points in the second – including five more threes – to extend the lead to 48-14 at intermission.  Not only did the Bulldogs remain hot from the line, but they used a pressing defense to limit the Tigers to five of 23 shooting (21%) in the first half; while forcing numerous turnovers.

A three-pointer from Savannah Kroener and two layups by Lockey extended the lead to 35 (55-20) with 5:01 remaining in the third quarter – triggering a running clock for the rest of the game.  After the fast moving quarter, Ansbaugh emptied his bench for the entire fourth quarter.

“We’re still a little banged up, particularly at center with Haley Collins battling a bad back, so tonight was sort of a blessing in that we were able to rest her for most of the game and also give our younger players a lot of playing time,” Ansbaugh added. 

For the game, Lockey finished with 25 points in just over two quarters of play.  Viera had 12 on four three-pointers and Vanessa Vohs had nine.  St. Cloud hit 13 threes in the game.   Makenna Day had a big game for Tohopekaliga.  She had 22 points, including three, 3-pointers.

The win sets up a rematch of last year’s OBC Championship Game with Gateway.  The top-seeded Panthers (11-4) got some good news with the return of senior standout Malayna Stevenson tonight – who missed almost two months with a severe ankle injury.

Karna Rivera scored 14 points to lead the Panthers in the Celebration win; while Stevenson chipped in 10.  Three other players, including sophomore Alyssa Marino had eight points.   “It was good to get Malayna back on the floor,” Panthers coach Justin Marino said.  “We got a solid effort all the way around tonight.”

History is on St. Cloud’s side for the championship game.  

The Bulldogs have won the last four OBC championships and six of the last eight; while the Panthers are chasing their first title.  The Bulldogs also will take a 16-game winning streak against the Panthers into the game, with Gateway last beating St. Cloud, 33-30, back in 2011.

Still both coaches say the key to victory is the same – shooting.  

“We can’t afford a cold shooting night,” Marino said.  “They are an experienced team that likes to shoot the three and we’re a young team that likes to shoot the three.  We are going to need them to fall tomorrow night.”

“The winning streak and OBC streak mean nothing,” Ansbaugh added.  “Each year, every team is new.  To be honest, coaching against Gateway is tough, because they are always well-coached and play fearless.   I think we both have excellent shooters, so the team that can come out hot will have the advantage.”

OBC Championship Results

Tuesday Quarterfinals

  • Gateway 49, Liberty 12
  • Celebration 38, Harmony 22
  • Tohopekaliga 56, Poinciana 18
  • St. Cloud 59, Osceola 23
  • Thursday’s Semifinals

Gateway 52, Celebration 21

  • St. Cloud 63, Tohopekaliga 30

Friday’s Finals (At Tohopekaliga)

  • 3rd Place Game:  Celebration vs. Tohopekaliga, 5 p.m.
  • Championship:  St. Cloud vs. Gateway, 7 p.m.