By: J. Daniel Pearson
For Positively Osceola
Thirty Osceola County wrestlers will have a chance to compete for individual state crowns as the Silver Spurs Arena hosts the 2022 FHSAA State Tournament, Mar. 3-5. A look at sports around Osceola County for the week:
Nineteen boys and 11 girls will be competing for state titles in 14 weight classes at this week’s FHSAA All-Classification State Wrestling Tournament being held at Heritage Park on Thursday (Mar. 3) through Saturday (Mar. 5).
Harmony, which won its first-ever regional team title by edging Wellington (210-206) to take the Class 3A, Region 3 crown, will send 10 wrestlers to the boys’ tournament. Qualifiers for the Longhorns include three regional champions in JC McNichols (138-lb. weight class, 47-1 on the season), Anthony Falotico (160, 28-5), and Nelson Toro (220, 44-2). Also qualifying via top-four finishes in regionals are Landon Davis (106-4th), Carson Estrada (120-3rd), Rey Ortiz (126, 3rd), Shawn McAllister (132, 3rd), Kade Toner (145-3rd), Maverick Hauser (152-4th), and Caden Gayle (285, 2nd).
“Our expectations have changed in the last couple of years as our program has joined the group of state elite wrestling schools,” Longhorn head coach Vic Lorenzano said. “Just trying to get there and do our best is no longer the goal. We want to win matches, put guys on the podium and win individual state titles.”
Osceola, which finished second in the 3A Region 2 tournament to Palmetto Ridge (240-148.5), will send seven grapplers to the state tournament including regional champions Anderson Heap (126-lb. weight class, 46-5 season record) and Cooper Haase (138, 54-3). Gunner Holland, who won a state title at 152 as a freshman, returns to states at 160. Holland finished second in regionals with a gut-wrenching sudden victory overtime loss to Palmetto’s Roman Garcia. George Duncan (170) and Elijah Vansickle (285) also placed second for the Kowboys, and those six will be joined by teammate Melvin Ewen (145-4th).
Osceola has had at least one state champion every season for the last 15 years, something that coach Jim Bird hopes to see extended. “Cooper and Gunner won state titles last year and Anderson finished second. They are all in different weight classes this year and all have a chance to win, but every class is stacked with outstanding competitors and it will be a challenge,” Bird said.
Other qualifiers from Osceola County include Tohopekaliga’s Jayson Ortiz (4th in 3A, Region 3 at 138), Celebration’s Chase McBroom (2nd, 3A, Region 2 at 152), and Liberty’s Daniel King, who finished fourth at 220-lbs. and Brainys Robles who placed second at 285 at the Class 2A, Region 2 Tournament.
The first girls’ tournament in FHSAA history will be a single classification (1A) tournament. A total of 11 girls from the county have qualified for the tournament.
Gateway will send four to the state meet, including regional champ Emiliana Martinez (190). Joining her will be Panther teammates Josie Glass (3rd-155), Lilly Yamber (2nd-170), and Fredlina Jones (2nd-235). Celebration will send regional champ Heyeni Costa (170). Osceola will have three representatives in Stacy Pule (2nd-105), Kellina Mack (3rd-126) and Cathia Timas (2nd-140). Poinciana advances two to the state finals, including Ivanis Pimentel (4th-140) and Kaylee Collado (2nd-145). Tohopekaliga sends one representative in Angela Banegas (3rd-105).
The season came to an end for Osceola, when it dropped a 75-57 decision to Lake Worth in the Class 7A, Region 3 Finals on Friday night. The Kowboys held a 55-53 lead after three periods before the Trojans went on a 20-0 run to start the fourth quarter and coast to the win.
“I stayed awake racking my brains on what we could have done differently in that game,” Osceola coach Steve Mason said. “It finally hit me that we probably ended up losing to a better team. Upsets can happen but in that game, the better team pulled it out. Was definitely proud of our effort this year,”
Both girls teams from St. Cloud and Gateway came up one game short of a Final Four appearance. The Lady Bulldogs (20-9) lost in the 6A Region 2 Final to Wekiva (52-32); while the Panthers (22-8) saw their Finals hopes dashed in the waning seconds in a 37-35 loss to Bishop Moore in the 5A, Region 2 Finals.
St. Cloud’s Unified Special Olympics team came home as state champions, defeating Plant City last Thursday.
Behind the hitting of Blake Birchler (3-6) and Danny Ramirez (3-5) and a team ERA of 0.50, the Osceola Kowboys were off to a 2-0 start and will rival road tests this week with Lake Nona on Wednesday and St. Cloud on Friday.
After losing a tough 4-3 decision to Melbourne Catholic, Harmony rebounded with a 10-1 win over St. Cloud and is 1-1 on the season; as is Gateway and Liberty. Both Tohopekaliga and Celebration opened their seasons with wins.
Outscoring its opposition 21 to 2, Harmony is off to a 2-0 start this season. The Longhorns have two games this week, traveling to Lake Nona on Tuesday and hosting Cornerstone on Thursday. Liberty, who was one of the pre-season favorites in OBC’s, got off to a tough start with a 10-0 loss to state power Bartow. The Chargers will get a better idea of where they stand in the county pecking order this week when two of their three games come against OBC teams Celebration (1-0) and Tohopekaliga (0-1),
Things did not go well for another OBC pre-season favorite Osceola, as they dropped a 20-2 decision to Lyman in their opener. The Kowboys will have ample opportunity to get back on track this week with a home game with Lake Nona (Tuesday) and a road contest at Space Coast on Friday.
Check back this week for complete baseball and softball previews at www.positivelyosceola.com.