Dan PearsonBy:  J. Daniel Pearson
For Positively Osceola

At the end of the day, Wekiva’s girls basketball team was just too big, too strong, and too gifted for St. Cloud to handle.

Jada Eads scored 12 of her game-high 19 points in the third quarter to lead Wekiva (24-2) to a 55-32 win over St. Cloud in Class 6A, Region 2 Final on Friday night. The victory propelled the Mustangs to its fourth consecutive Final Four Appearance and their sixth in school history.

St. Cloud, which won both an Orange Belt Conference and District Championship, finished its season with a 20-9 record.

“This team has been a dream to coach, I’m so proud of the effort we displayed tonight and all season,” Bulldog head coach Chad Ansbaugh said. “This team bought into everything we were trying to teach them, they worked so hard and were so unselfish. It was a tall order tonight and even then we fought to the end.”

Giving up both size and athleticism to the Mustangs, St. Cloud fell behind from the start – trailing 13-2 after one quarter. But the Bulldogs would rally. On defense, St. Cloud held Wekiva to just five second-quarter points and Danigzy Mantilla score six as the gap was just five at the half, 18-13.

Vanessa Vohs would drain a three-pointer in the third quarter as St. Cloud clawed to within two points at 25-23 with 3:04 remaining. But Jada Eads would take over the game for Wekiva. She would score 10 points in the final three minutes as Wekiva pulled out to a 9-point lead at 32-23.

“When they pulled within two points, I think it flipped a switch for us,” Wekiva head coach Tommie Butts said. “I think they surprised us a little with their tenacity. Our intensity level really picked up at that point.”

Mantilla, St. Cloud’s fiery guard, picked up her fourth and fifth fouls early in the fourth quarter and was disqualified. At that point the roof caved in for St. Cloud as Wekiva went on an 11-2 run in the first three minutes to pull ahead 43-27 and eventually cruised to a 20-point win.

It was the Wekiva defense and physical play that proved the difference. In addition to Eads’ 19 points, the Mustangs “bigs” of Ryan Moffitt and Shaniyah McCarthy dominated the paint with 27 points and 16 rebounds.

“When Danzy fouled out early, I sensed it was pretty much over. I was a little upset they called a few ticky-tack fouls on her but let Wekiva’s players play extremely physical on the other end. But at the end of the day, it probably would not have mattered. It was a tall order to begin and we would have had to play a near-perfect game to win,” Ansbaugh noted. “Still, I am so incredibly proud of the effort we put forward both tonight and the entire season. “

Mantilla led all St. Cloud scorers with 10 points, Yareliz Repollet and Savannah Kroener had six each.

In other playoff action, the Gateway Panthers also saw their post-season hopes come to an end with a close 37-35 loss to Bishop Moore in the Class 5A, Region 2 Final. The Lady Panthers gave up a layup in the final 12 seconds for the game-winner.

The Panthers finish the season at 22-8 and like St. Cloud should post a strong team next year with the majority of its starters returning.