For Osceola’s boys basketball team and Coach Nate Alexander, tonight’s Region 9A-2 championship against Oak Ridge — for the third time in as many years — was the matchup everyone anticipated, and the re-match the Kowboys thought would be possible with two regional playoff victories.
Check, check and check.
The third such regional final was made possible by a tough road win Tuesday at Vero Beach in the regional semifinals. The Kowboys (23-7) had to overcome tough shooting early and rough defense by the Indians (24-4) early in the game for a 66-59 win.
The task wasn’t easy as the Indians, coached by Shane Whitsett, the man who led Poinciana to the 2016 Class 5A state title, won the District 9A-8 title and it showed as the game was tied, 11-11, after one quarter and was a one-possession game at halftime, when Osceola took a 26-23 lead to the locker room.
“They switched to a 1-3-1 zone early and we didn’t take care of the ball,” OHS Coach Nate Alexander said. “As the game went on we caught some breaks. Our guys have been in enough big games over the years to know what to do.”
Tuesday’s situations were big, as the game was a one-possession affair the entire first half and the lead for either side was four points at the most until Osceola clicked off a 9-2 run early in the fourth quarter and another 7-0 run after Tommy Lewis hit a three-pointer to pull Vero within three, 53-50, to finally get some breathing room.
Center Diwun Black, who joined the Kowboys in January once becoming eligible, keyed Osceola’s second half, scoring 21 of his game-high 25 points after the break, including 11 during OHS’ 28-point fourth-quarter outburst.
“Diwun’s been really impressive,” Alexander said. “He’s a high-energy great and a great demeanor that goes well with our guys. He’s been a breath of fresh air.”
Point guard Josh Marte, who dictated the pace of the game Tuesday, added 18 and Jaduhkiss Soto, who hit big buckets in each quarter, scored 12.
Lewis, the Indians’ top playmaker, led Vero Beach with 20, despite sitting much of the second quarter with foul trouble.
Osceola lost at Oak Ridge, 71-51, in an early-season tournament back on Dec. 1. It was the third game of the season for the Kowboys, and long before Black joined the roster.
“They’re a different team, and we’re a different team from that game,” Alexander said. “And this’ll be on our gym, in the past that’s been a big deal in this series.”
Osceola defeated Oak Ridge, 63-60 in Kissimmee, the 2017 version of this game, and the Pioneers returned the favor, 57-54, last year in Orlando. The winner won the Class 9A state title both times.