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Kowboys backing up state title with early hoops wins

Posted on Thursday, December 7, 2017 at 10:07 am

By Ken Jackson
Sports Editor

Last season, Poinciana High responded to winning the Class 5A boys basketball championship by … finishing second in the Orange Belt Conference to Osceola High.

Then the Kowboys took the white-hot torch and blazed a trail through the Class 9A regional playoffs, won a vice-tight semifinal game against Wellington and powered past Wekiva to become state champions themselves.

So how is Coach Nate Alexander’s OHS squad handling life in a new season as the defending title holders?

Well, 3-0 isn’t a bad start, and while he said he doesn’t expect an undefeated season — the schedule is highly stacked against that — at least his team comes into the year well-focused, appropriately motivated and in a good place.

After beating St. Cloud and Bartow last weekend to open the season, the Kowboys claimed their second OBC win Monday with a 65-30 home win over Harmony (1-2).

News-Gazette photo/Martin Maddock
Osceola Kowboys swingman Jaduhkiss Soto (0) brings the ball up court as center Omar Paye (5) trails the play during Monday’s 65-30 win over Harmony. OHS, the defending Class 9A state champion, has opened its defense season 3-0.

Point guard Josh Marte (game high 18 points) and center Omar Payne (12 points, 10 rebounds) worked together at both ends of the floor to put away a Longhorn team that was scrappy and pesky for most of the first quarter.

After a three-pointer that pulled Harmony to 16-11, Marte drained a three-ball of his own just before the buzzer. That shot kicked off a 16-2 run that would extend through much of the second quarter, and included three alley-oop passes from Marte to Payne, whose dunks sent a buzz through the OHS contingent of a packed Kowboy gym.

The scoring punch was spread around, as Isaiah Palermo (15 points, six rebounds, three steals) and Gateway transfer Jaduhkiss Soto (10) also reached double figures for Osceola, which also displayed a swarming defense and forced 19 Harmony turnovers.

Josh Gonzalez led Harmony with 10 points.

Alexander was pleased but not overly satisfied following Monday’s game.

“Our defense was up-and-down, they probably took too many chances,” he said. “But We’re off to a good start, they’re playing hard. We talked about playing with a championship mindset every night out, and they’re buying in.”

With just Payne, Marte and Palermo a part of last season’s title run, Alexander said the early months of the season are a time for the rest of the roster to sharpen its mental game.

“We get 25 chances to lay it on the line. If a guy has a bad night, right now he can have a short memory and cheer for the guy next to him who’s playing well. It’s a good problem to have to have a lot of guys like that.”

The Kowboys played Celebration in another OBC game on Wednesday, and played their first District 9A-7 games Friday (at Ridge) and Wednesday (against Haines City).

Among other games involving county teams, Gateway hosts St. Cloud tonight at 7, and on Friday Titusville Astronaut visits Harmony, New Dimensions is at Celebration, Bishop Moore travels to Poinciana and Lake Region goes to Liberty.