Basketball season is now underway around the state and Osceola County, and now new Tohopekaliga High School has broken in its new gym for hoops after it earned rave reviews from the volleyball teams that played in it during the fall.
The Tigers opened their inaugural season with a win over New Dimensions earlier in the week, but couldn’t find that magic in their home opener Friday, a 55-41 loss to Gateway, the school where many of THS’ players attended last year.
Collis Griffin scored a game-high 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds to lead the Panthers to the win in their regular-season opener. It was a sloppy game on both sides, as Gateway committed 25 turnovers and Toho gave it away 15 times and shot just 32 percent in the game.
“We might have been a little bit too excited, especially early in the game,” Tohopekaliga Head Coach and former Panthers assistant Jesus Merced said. “I really liked the fact that we played hard the whole game and where able to stay in the game against a very experienced and good Gateway team.”
Gateway Coach Travis James said it was “a great night for everyone,” but stressed it was opening night and his team was a little raw.
“Obviously we’re not pleased with the 25 turnovers, but the opportunity to play the first game in a beautiful new facility, a chance to play in front of a full house with a great atmosphere, and a chance to coach against a good friend and an outstanding coach made it a special night,” he said.
Tohopekaliga did not score its first field goal until Jeremiah Myers made a shot from the corner with 45 seconds left in the first quarter, but Gateway had six turnovers in the period and only led by a 10-2 margin after one.
The Tigers, behind six points from Myers and four from Tariq Cirino, outscored Gateway in the second period 19-14 to cut the lead to one at the half, 24-23, to bring the crowd back into it.
Emporia State signee Tyreek Robinson spurred a 14-4 Gateway run in the third period with four points – including a thunderous dunk that gave the Panthers a huge lift.
“That play sort of woke us and gave us some energy,” James said. “It seems like after that happened we were able to answer every mini-run they made.”
Orlando Martinez and Michael Rodriguez combined for 13 points in the final stanza to give the Panthers their 14-point margin of victory. Robinson finished with 10 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks; Martinez finished with 11.
Myers led Tigers scorers with 11. Cirino added eight.
“It was a lot of fun going against Gateway. I helped coach many of their players for the last three years and it meant a lot to me to see them in our first home game,” Merced said. “This will be a great learning experience for us. I very proud of the way our kids fought from start to finish in this one and we’ll certainly get better as the season goes on. Being a new school, this group has only been together for a short time yet there is a real sense of cohesiveness about them. They work hard and I believe our future is bright.”
Still in search of its first home win, Tohopekaliga hosted Ridge on Tuesday and will welcome St. Cloud, who hosted Gateway on Tuesday, on Friday at 7.
On the girls side, St. Cloud (3-1) saw a 14-point fourth-quarter lead evaporate Friday and then needed to rally in overtime to take an 85-84 win over Florida Prep. Bailey Ansbaugh found center Eno Inyang in the paint, and her shot with five seconds left won it.
“The ball sat on the rim and just found its way in. We just had a great team effort,” St. Cloud Coach Chad Ansbaugh said. “Beka Benge and Jaden Langer hit huge shots and Moriah Sanchez kept the offense under control. Angie Rodriguez and Erin Maloney helped us deal with foul trouble, and Rakela Cummings had the best game of her career. The effort and grit were off the charts.”
The Bulldogs host Master’s Academy tonight at 6 before heading to the Spruce Creek Shootout where they’ll see state-tournament team Seffner Christian and the host Hawks.
Osceola, despite 33 points and seven steals from Angel Roman, fell to Winter Park, 60-54, on Friday. The Kowgirls (2-1) are at George Jenkins tonight and host Haines City on Tuesday, both District 9A-7 contests.
City of Life, chasing another Class 2A state title, won its first game of a handful it’ll play this season against Class 7A and 8A public schools with a 67-22 rout of Liberty.
Shooting guard and reigning Florida Dairy Farmers’ 2A Player of the Year Debra Buggs continued her hot start to the season, scoring 24 points and adding five steals. Forward Omega Payton added 16 points, 10 steals and eight rebounds for the Warriors (2-2).
Sports Editor Ken Jackson contributed to this story.