The Osceola Kowboys overcame a 2-1 deficit to defeat the St. Cloud Bulldogs in five games (20-25, 26-24, 22-25, 25-20, 15-10) to claim the 2019 Orange Belt Conference Championship in front of a large and enthusiastic crowd at Poinciana High School.
“This was a great win for our program and our team,” Ashley Martin said. “It doesn’t matter for districts or the playoffs, but it means a lot for county pride. We haven’t won this tournament in a few years so I know our kids really wanted to win this tournament.”
St. Cloud, 13-4. started off strong by winning the first game of the match. The Lady Bulldogs led for most of the game but after Osceola closed the gap to 20-17, St. Cloud scored five of next eight points to close out for the Lady Bulldogs. Eno Inyang, a 6-1 junior, played a key role late, scoring two points with a huge block at the net and with a thunderous spike on back-to-back plays to build a 23-17 lead.
The teams would battle to a 24-24 tie in the second game before Yarellis Lopez gave Osceola the lead with a cross-court spike and senior captain Allison Palmi came up with a block at the net to even the match at a game each.
Osceola would build a 10-6 lead in the third game, but St. Cloud would go on a 7-0 run to take a 13-10 lead. After the Lady Bulldogs built a 20-17 lead, Osceola would go on a 4-1 run to tie the game at 21-21. But Inyang would come up with two big spikes and Kaylee Tutor would find two openings in the Lady Kowboy defense to finish the game on a 4-1 run and take a two games to one lead.
The Lady Kowboys would dominate most of game three, holding a four and five point lead for most of the game. St. Cloud did manage to close the gap to 19-17 late, but Osceola responded with five straight points to take a commanding 24-17 lead and then closed out the game four points later when Palmi’s touch fell over the St. Cloud front line.
Both teams made multiple service and passing errors in the decisive fifth game, with the game going to 8-8 on a St. Cloud serving error. But behind two heavy kills shots from freshman middle blocker Ahnika Johnston and two return errors, the Lady Kowboys went on a 6-1 run to take a commanding 14-9 lead. St. Cloud fought off one match point, but Palmi’s big kill at the net ended the match and sent Osceola, 15-1, home with the title.
The match marked the second time the two top teams in the county have met this year. Osceola also won the first match, also winning at home in five sets.
“St. Cloud is a really good team and has a lot of talented players. I was really hoping that we could put them away in less than five game this time but they came out focused and gave us some trouble early,” Martin noted.
Martin added that after the first three games, her team refocused and improved in its passing and service game.
“Those are two areas where we are going to have to get better at,” she said. “As the match went on we started getting better in both areas and I am proud of how we came back.”
Osceola reached the championship with 3-0 wins over Poinciana and Celebration in the quarter and semifinals. St. Cloud also recorded back-to-back 3-0 wins over Liberty and Tohopekaliga to reach the OBC Championship game.
In a third place game held before the championship, Tohopekaliga overcame a 0-2 deficit to beat Celebration in five games.
Osceola (15-1, 1-0 District)
Immediately after its victory at the OBC Tournament, the Lady Kowboys headed to Tampa where they were scheduled to play in a tournament with Middleton, Seffner Christian and Bayshore Christian. They were scheduled to finish their regular season with back-to-back home games with Liberty and Freedom (Oct. 9-10) before heading into District Tournament play.
St. Cloud (13-4, 1-1 District)
The Lady Bulldogs were scheduled to play in the Monteverde Academy Classic (Sept. 27-28) and will close regular season play with three straight home games with Lake Howell (10/3) and county rivals Harmony (10/8) and Gateway (10/10).
Celebration (11-5, 1-1 District)
The Storm have seven matches left, including a tournament at Cornerstone Charter Academy (Sept. 27-28) and close the regular season at Lakeland Christian (10/10).
Tohopekaliga (7-6, 0-1 District)
After a come-from-behind third place finish in OBC’s, the Lady Tigers will play four of its final five regular season games against county competition.
Harmony (8-9, 0-0 District)
After being swept by Celebration (3-0), the Lady Longhorns defeated Poinciana and Gateway in back-to-back matches. Harmony concludes the regular season with four straight road games, playing at Winter Haven (10/3), St. Cloud (10/8), Poinciana (10/9) and Lake Brantley (10/10).
Gateway (7-8, District 1-0)
The Panthers lost to Tohopekaliga in the first round of the OBC Tournament. The Panthers have seven regular season matches left, including district contests against Heritage and Bayside.
Liberty (3-10, District 1-1)
The Chargers lost in the first round of the OBC Tournament and will close its regular season with three road matches against county opponents Gateway (10/3), Poinciana (10/8) and Osceola (10/9).
Poinciana (2-13, District 0-1)
Six regular season matches remain, including home games against Liberty (10/8) and Harmony (10/9) to conclude the regular season.