Dan PearsonBy:  J. Daniel Pearson
For Positively Osceola

For almost two decades, St. Cloud girls’ basketball went without winning a district basketball championship. That drought ended in 2000 and now the Bulldogs have now won three in a row with a 71-33 win over East Ridge in Friday’s Class 7A, District 6 championship game.

Sophomore Emily Lockey led the way with a game-high 29 points, including 18 in the decisive second quarter. “It was a good win for our young team,” Coach Chad Ansbaugh. “We started a little slow tonight, which has been somewhat typical for this team, but caught fire in the second quarter and took control.”

St. Cloud, which went to 18-8 on the season, is now guaranteed at least one more home game this season. They will host a Regional 2 Quarterfinal Game on Wednesday at 7 p.m.

The Bulldogs missed several layups early in the contest but still managed to take a 17-12 lead after one period. They did not build a 10-point lead until midway through the second when Savanah Kroener stole a pass and was fouled on the lay-up. She completed the three-point play to give St. Cloud a 24-14 lead.

From there, it was all Lockey. She made seven field goals in the period, including two off her own steals and subsequent layups. She also hit two 3s in the period as St. Cloud extended the lead to 21 at the half, 41-20. “Emily was feeling it in the second quarter but a lot of the credit also needs to go to our point guard Danzy (Danigzy Mantilla),” Ansbaugh said. “She did a great job of penetrating and dishing.”

Mantilla would take over the game offensively in the third period. She hit three quick buckets as the Bulldogs upped the lead to 48-20. Lockett would then cap her night with a three-pointer early in the fourth as the lead went 30 and a running clock ensued under FHSAA “mercy” rules.
In addition to the big night from Lockey, Mantilla finished with 18, Jaelynn Bonilla and Kroenner had six each. Haley Hunt led all East River (12-11) with 18.

St. Cloud won its 18th game of the season a year after graduating three of its four top scorers, including current Clemson standout Eno Inyang – who averaged more than 20 points a game. The Bulldogs started four sophomores in the game.

“Really proud of the way we played tonight,” Ansbaugh said. “When the year started, I really thought at best-case scenario we would be a 12 or 13 win team. We stole a few games this year and were able to win a district championship. We may not always be the most talented team on the floor, but we will always give maximum effort.”

Moving forward, Ansbaugh added that the regional tournament would present a huge challenge to his young team. “It’s a tough district, as Wekiva is always a state contender,” he said. “Add in a real good East River team and our work is going to be cut out for us.”