Sports Editor

Two boys basketball playoff teams faced off Monday night at the Osceola High gym.

While the Kowboys showed off the tempo and swagger they used to win the 2017 Class 9A state title and get back to the regional finals last season, Celebration showed they’ll need the regular season to round back into postseason form.

Both teams return the bulk of their starters from last year — and it was Osceola’s who ran, shot and dunked their way past the Storm, 84-54.

“We’ll take it after Saturday,” OHS Coach Nate Alexander said, referring to a 71-51 loss to Oak Ridge in the Breast Cancer Awareness tournament that was a rematch of that regional final.

The Kowboys hit 10 three-pointers (eight in the second half), but looked even more impressive running an up-tempo offense, speeding to the basket in transition, often after one of the 25 Storm turnovers they forced.

OHS Isaiah CHS Diasco

Osceola's Isaiah Palermo defends while Celebration's D'Angelo Riascos goes to the hoop for a layup in the Kowboys' resounding 84-54 win Monday. Both teams were in the playoffs last season.

“Defense and rebounding (OHS held a 29-21 edge there, too) will be big for us, now that we’re a little undersized,” Alexander said.

Point guard Josh Marte, who has signed with Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, was a perfectly-timed engine for Osceola, scoring (17 points) and distributing (six assists). Isaiah Palermo (game-high 22 points) was the accelerator, and Jaduhkiss Soto (11 points, eight rebounds), Jeremiah Palermo (nine points, three steals) and Armani Thomas (five points, six rebounds, four assists) were a capable pit crew as the Kowboys played a clean game, with 14 total assists against just seven turnovers.

Celebration’s own transition game kept it close early; it was 18-16 one possession into the second quarter before Osceola ran out on a 23-7 run to pad a lead that reached 41-27 at halftime, 54-32 midway though the third quarter and 68-42 entering the fourth.

Celebration Coach Corey Green, who said in the preseason he’d play at least 10 players each game — “Most games you’ll see all 14” — again went deep into his bench, and played 12 guys. The bench (28) actually outscored the starters (26) led by sixth-man Anthony Reyes’ eight points and team-high four rebounds.

D’Angelo Riascos led the Storm with 11 points and Terrell Chisholm added nine, but it wasn’t near enough as Green said his team didn’t even approach its best.

“Eighty-four points and 25 turnovers? That’s undisciplined basketball,” he said. “That’s not what we teach, not how we practice.”

Celebration had a game Tuesday night, against Discovery.

“And we’re going to practice before the game,” Green said in an attempt to correct Monday’s mistakes.

The Storm will host Four Corners Charter Wednesday at 7:30.

Osceola hits the road for a pair of District 9A-7 matchups Friday at Ridge and Tuesday at Haines City.

In other county action, Poinciana (2-1) has opened the season with three one-point games. The Eagles, who opened the year falling to West Orange, 55-54, nearly let another fourth-quarter lead slip but beat Harmony, 49-48 on Nov. 28 and beat St. Cloud, 60-59 on Friday in a game that was tight for four quarters.

PHS is at Eustis on Friday and hosts Tavares Tuesday in a pair of District 6A-13 contests.

City of Life picked up its second win of the season Monday with a 79-41 romp over Osceola Christian Prep (0-2). Jeremy Santana-Tavares led the Warriors with 15 points and 12 rebounds in the win and Shamyll Torres added 16 points and eight rebounds.