Sports Editor

Osceola's senior tandem of Josh Marte and Isaiah Palermo have a knack for making big shots when needed. They did it Friday, and because of it will get one more game in a Kowboy uniform Saturday.

They're playing for their second state championship in three years for just that reason.

In Friday's Class 9A state semifinal, Palermo scored 11 points in the first quarter, and then Marte had 11 of his 14 in the game in the final stanza as Osceola (25-7) defeated South Miami (25-6), ranked No. 1 in the state in 9A by MaxPreps.

The Kowboys will face Wellington, a 50-32 winner over Evans in Friday's earlier semifinal, in Saturday's 7 p.m. state championship game at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland.

Osceola played for state titles in 2015 and 2017, winning the latter.

In between Palermo lighting up the first quarter and Marte owning the last, Jaduhkiss Soto, another senior, came off the bench to score 10 of Osceola's 19 points in the second and third quarter.

But after the Cobras hit the first three shots of the third quarter to take its only lead of the game, with the Kowboys clearly out of sync with turnovers and settling for less-than-ideal shots, it was Marte who put the team back in balance while defending point guard Arturo Dean, Coach Nate Alexander said.

"He's been with me for four years, he's almost like my son now. He's a great player," the coach said of his point guard. "In the matchup there, I tried to tell him (Dean) is something special. At the end we had three at a time. 

"He came out a little skiddish and I told him, 'You go, and everyone else will follow you. He went hard and everybody else kinda jumped behind him. That's the kind of competitor he is."

Dean scored just seven points -- none in the second half -- and was held 15 points under his season average. His brother, Toru Dean, scored a game-high 26 points, including 16 in the fourth quarter, but it wasn't enough to send the Cobras to Saturday.

Palermo threw the early blows at South Miami, as Osceola built a 16-13 lead. Soto scored all eight Kowboy second-quarter points and it as 24-20 at halftime.

Despite having its two long post players (Lee Flenor and Brandon Sanders) in foul trouble, South Miami briefly took a 28-27 lead in the third quarter only to see Osceola go on an 8-0 run, punctuated by a Diwun Black steal and coast-to-coast slam dunk. That built a 35-28 lead they'd never surrender, although the Cobras did pull within four points twice in the fourth quarter.

Six different Kowboys scored in the fourth quarter. Palermo (16), Black (15), Marte (14) and Soto (10) all finished in double figures. Black and Soto each had eight rebounds. Marte and Armani Thomas had three assists.