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Osceola, Poinciana begin state title quest Thursday

Posted on Wednesday, February 15, 2017 at 4:11 pm

Josh Marte (2) returned from an auto accident to help the Kowboys roll through the district tournament. Photo/Martin Maddock

By Rick Pedone
Sports Editor
It’s come down to the county’s two best boys basketball programs – Osceola and Poinciana – as the regional playoffs begin Thursday.
Everyone else in the county was eliminated at the district tournaments  last week.
Osceola (25-2) rolled over Ridge Community, 66-51, Friday at Haines City to clinch its fourth consecutive district championship. The Kowboys, the 9A-7 champs, host 9A-8 runner-up Fort Pierce Central (16-8) at 7 p.m. at the Kowboys gym.
Poinciana (19-8) will have to do its regional work the hard way – on the road. Like last season, the Eagles lost their 6A-13 district championship game to Leesburg, 56-51, at Eustis. The loss means that Poinciana, the defending state champion, probably will have to win on the road to return to the state tournament. It begins that trek at Titusville (25-2), the 6A-14 champion, Thursday at 7 p.m.
Osceola was powered by the return of point guard Josh Marte at the 9A-7 tournament. He scored 13 points and had seven assists in the championship game, behind Tevin Florent’s 20 points and eight rebounds.
Marte, injured in an auto accident in late January, scored 19 points in the semifinal victory against Lakeland George Jenkins.
“We’re in pretty good shape, probably as good as we can be, and the guys are playing well,” Osceola Coach Nate Alexander said.
Fort Pierce lost its championship game Friday to St. Lucie Treasure Coast.
“They are kind of all over the place. They shoot a lot of 3s, and you never are sure what defense they’re in,” Alexander said.
“They are a little like Ridge. They’ve beat some pretty good teams.”
Osceola, ranked No. 2 in Class 9A behind South Miami, is locked into one of the state’s most difficult regions. Also in region 9A-2 are No. 3 Oak Ridge, No. 5 Sarasota Riverview and No. 9 Treasure Coast.
The Kowboys would travel to Treasure Coast on Tuesday for a regional semifinal, or host Ridge Community if it upsets the Titans.
“I think we’re probably set up as good as we can be,” Alexander said. “I told the guys that it’s all right there for us. We just have to go out and play.”
Titusville is ranked No. 10 in the Class 6A state poll and Poinciana Coach Shane Whitsett said it would be a challenge to beat the Terriers. But, Poinciana did just that last year on its way to the state title.
“Titusville is going to be tough. I think they are better this year. They return their top three players and have another solid three to four players behind those guys. They play really well as a team,” Whitsett said.
Poinciana’s 22 turnovers crushed the team’s opportunity at Leesburg last week, Whitsett said.
“We are our own worst enemy on some nights. We fight hard and play with a lot of effort on defense, but we continue to turn the ball over at a high rate,” he said.
“If we can eliminate careless turnovers, we would be district champs and our record would be much different as well.”
But, Whitsett said his Eagles have a good opportunity to advance.
“It will be a tough environment, but our kids are battle tested. We have played a tough schedule and have won and lost some close games. Hopefully we can avoid the turnover bug,” he said.
“We have every opportunity to win this game. We just have to go out there and give everything we have, pure effort, for 32 minutes.”
The regional finals are Feb. 24.