The county’s basketball squads should start to soon see a glimmer that’s the light at the end of tunnel.
There’s probably a hoop there.
Teams will log the last of their district games this week to set the fields and seedings for their all-important district tournaments that will begin in two weeks.
The last week of the regular season is a time to push through, after putting grueling tournament schedules during the holiday break behind them in some cases and set themselves up for a postseason run.
The St. Cloud girls team clinched No. 1 seed for the District 8A-6 tournament it will host starting Feb. 4 with a win 67-15 win Thursday over Viera. The Bulldogs (20-2) have not dropped a game to an 8A-6 (7-0) or an Orange Belt Conference opponent.
A 73-49 win over Hagerty on Friday made that possible. The game was closer than it sounded; the Huskies (13-5) narrowed a 30-18 halftime lead to single digits, 43-35 after the third quarter before the Bulldogs executed their outside shooting and inside presence game in the fourth quarter, outscoring Hagerty, 73-49.
St. Cloud rides a 15-game winning streak into its annual rivalry game Wednesday at Osceola (8-11).
Hagerty and Melbourne, who the Bulldogs beat 65-55 on Jan. 10 in their closest district game thus far, are vying for the second and third seeds, followed by Harmony, Liberty and Celebration.
St. Cloud hosts Osceola (6-11) on Wednesday at 7 p.m. to lock up the OBC title, which it shared with the Kowgirls and Celebration last year.
In District 9A-7, where Haines City has been the clear favorite thus far, Gateway is aligning to be the No. 2 seed and snare its first girls basketball playoff berth since 2009. The Panthers (12-7) defeated Osceola for the second time this season, 47-42, on Thursday. They were even more impressive in a 75-38 romp Friday over Winter Park, where junior Gyomara Ramos had 27 points, sophomore forward Katelyn Cardoza added 17 and freshman Neri Moreau had 13.
Their contributions go well with senior power forward Anissa Tuitt, who is averaging a double-double in points and rebounds per game.
“Obviously Anissa is our stud but the others are stepping up at the right time,” Panthers Coach Justin Marino said. “The district bracket just came out (Tuesday) and we're No. 2 and play Ridge.
“My goal was to win 12 games at the beginning of the season and if we win out we'll finish 16-7. If you look at our losses we lost to top-notch teams in the state (St. Cloud, Haines City, Daytona Beach Father Lopez, Lincoln Park). My other goal was to finish second or third in the district so we just have to win that one game with the chance to advance to regionals.”
The boys teams, who will play their district tournaments a week later, still have a lot to clear up — and in 9A-7 and 8A-6, the only thing that’s clear is that everything’s muddled.
Osceola (12-7) has won five straight district titles, but has dropped games with George Jenkins and Haines City, and went to overtime at home with Gateway to begin January. The Kowboys play them, along with Ridge, again before closing out their 9A-7 schedule.
Another puzzling team is Liberty (8-9), who gave District 8A-6 foe Hagerty its first district loss, 61-56 in overtime before the holiday break started, then went 4-3 in a series of holiday tournaments to put its record at 8-6.
Last week, the Chargers dropped an overtime game to Harmony, 79-73, a 67-59 rivalry game to Poinciana (9-7) despite 30 points from junior guard Jaylen Williams, and a 52-33 District 8A-6 game Friday to Viera that featured unkind rims for Liberty and saw Williams go out in the fourth quarter with an apparent hand injury.
The Eagles, who are in the middle of the District 6A-13 race that includes state-ranked Leesburg and a surging Bishop Moore team, has quietly gone 5-0 in Orange Belt Conference play, and with a home win Tuesday against Celebration, would host Osceola on Feb. 8 in the de facto OBC championship game.