By Ken Jackson

Staff Writer

In a game worthy of being the state championship game — many in attendance “in the know” called it as such since the winner will likely take the Class 9A crown — the Osceola Kowboys fought tooth and nail and, despite leading with a minute to go, fell to Oak Ridge, 57-54, in the Region 2 final.

The Pioneers (28-4) move on to play West Orange in the 9A state semifinal on Friday in Lakeland, with that winner going on to Saturday’s championship game.

A pair of turnovers, Pioneers steals, in that last minute proved costly for Osceola, which finished a season in which the goal was defending its Class 9A title at 21-7.

The game, a rematch of last year’s regional final won by the Kowboys 63-60 in Kissimmee, was played in a packed Oak Ridge gym in front of a massive crowd that overwhelmed the building’s air conditioning. That crowd, filled with Pioneers fans mixed in with a contingent from Osceola , got even louder during a second half in which the 29-24 lead Oak Ridge held coming out of halftime would be the largest it would get, and a fourth quarter in which neither team led by more than three points.