St. Cloud and City of Life’s girls basketball programs will host regional playoff games tonight after celebrating district championships last weekend.
For the Warriors (19-5), this has become routine after winning the Class 2A state championship last year. They dispatched Lakeland Victory Christian in the District 2A-5 final, 61-21 on Feb. 7, and will host 2A-6 runner-up Morningside Academy (21-5), who they defeated last year on the title run.
On the other hand, St. Cloud (26-2), which had been just out of reach of the trophy in recent years, finally got ahold of it Saturday with a 70-59 win over Melbourne in the 8A-6 title game. It’s the Bulldogs’ first district championship since 2000.
It was a workmanlike effort — but doesn’t that usually describe the Scrappy Dogs? — as St. Cloud overcame foul trouble, physicality and a 31-point night from Melbourne’s Mikyla Tolivert.
The effort gets the Bulldogs a home game tonight against East Ridge (18-7).
St. Cloud led Saturday’s game wire-to-wire, and had a clutch answer for each Melbourne rally. Center Eno Inyang scored 14 of her 21 points in the first half to stake the Bulldogs to a lead that grew to 10, 34-24 when Beka Benge (12 points) nailed a three-pointer to close the half.
Melbourne would pull within three in the third quarter, to be followed by three-pointers from Bailey Ansbaugh (five points), Moriah Sanchez (6) and Jaden Langer, whose buzzer-beater made it 52-46 going to the fourth quarter.
St. Cloud opened the quarter with threes from Benge and Sanchez, and the lead swelled to 66-55 with 2:19 left. The Bulldogs possessed enough to run out the clock from there.
“We were in as much control as we could be in,” Coach Chad Ansbaugh said. “We stuck to our game plan, they scored a lot of points but I guess we scored more. All the girls shot the ball well.”
It was another Bulldog win, meaning the offense came from everywhere on the floor, including Angie Rodriguez (eight points) and Rakela Cummings (3).
All 15 of Langer’s came in the second half after she took a cut on the chin that required a run to the locker room for another jersey; in the third quarter the senior took a knock to the nose, but will be in the lineup tonight.
“We have so many girls contributing. Any one who starts can be our leading scorer on a given night,” Ansbaugh said. “Jaden really earned her stripes in that one, she hopped up after getting hit in the nose and wanted to get right back in there.”
East Ridge lost the 8A-5 title game to Windermere on Friday, and St. Cloud will host the winner of Windermere-Melbourne on Tuesday with a victory of their own.
“East Ridge is a good matchup for us,” Ansbaugh said. “At this point in the year it’s all about matchups.
City of Life Coach Dewrie Buggs also said he likes his team’s matchup with Morningside, even if he and the Warriors must go into battle without point guard, leading scorer and his daughter Debra Buggs, who suffered a leg injury in a game Feb. 1 against St. Cloud.
“A couple of kids can replace her offense, but I’m more concerned about replacing the defense,” Coach Buggs said. “She doesn’t lose her man. I hope with the rest of our athleticism we can compensate.
Against Victory Christian, Omega Payton (14 points), Reyna Buggs (11), Janelise Marty (8) and Josie and Camila DePool (7 each) all contributed multiple field goals as City of Life opened a 39-8 halftime lead and cruised from there.
A win tonight likely puts the Warriors in a game for the regional championship in Melbourne against Florida Prep; that would pit the top two teams in Class 2A in the current MaxPreps rankings.