Sports Editor

SC GBB Angie Rodriguez

East Ridge's Christine Van Marter is helpless to stop St. Cloud's Angie Rodriguez from driving to the basket the closing moments of the first quarter in the Bulldogs' 61-34 regional playoff win Thursday.

Gateway falls in Fort Pierce, 50-39

Girls basketball season in Osceola County will extend into next week after St. Cloud and City of Life won their playoff openers Thursday at home.

At the Bulldog gym, St. Cloud (27-2) used a 19-3 run from the end of the first quarter to the beginning of the third to bury East Ridge (18-8), then refused to let the Knights dig out of the hole in the second half to win a Region 8A-2 quarterfinal, 61-34.

The Bulldogs next step is a stern test. Windermere (21-5), a 69-62 winner Thursday over Melbourne, comes to town in Tuesday's 7 p.m. regional semifinal.

City of Life, looking to win four playoff games to defend its Class 2A state champion, handled Morningside Academy, 58-36, in a regional semifinal much like the Warriors did last year.

The news wasn't as good for Gateway; in the Panthers' first Class 9A regional playoff game in nine years, they got behind Fort Pierce Central early and fell to the Cobras, 50-39, ending one of Gateway's best seasons ever at 17-9.

For St. Cloud, forward Jaden Langer (13 points, six rebounds) and center Eno Inyang (game-high 21 points, two blocks) brought the intensity — and big buckets — early. They combined to score 18 of the Bulldogs' 19 first-quarter points and 22 of 32 in the first half.

This followed a slow start, as East Ridge defended with a full-court press early in the game.

"If they wouldn't have come out of their press, I still think we have calmed down," said Langer, who in stops with Osceola and City of Life in her career had not experienced a regional playoff win prior to Thursday. "This is my senior year, I don't want to stop playing with this team or my career to end."

Inyang said it did take a while for the Bulldogs to dictate the pace of play.

"We slowed it down and played our game," she said. "My teammates got me going."

Langer, who played with a face shield after busting her chin and breaking her nose in the District 8A-6 championship Saturday against Melbourne, scored the final four points of the first quarter, the last after an Angie Rodriguez steal. Following a Jaeda Logan three-pointer for the Knights to open the second quarter the Bulldogs stretched a 19-13 lead to 34-13 after St. Cloud went right to Inyang in the paint to open the third quarter.

Still, the pace at times made Coach Chad Ansbaugh uneasy, he said.

"It was a rough start and I thought it stayed rough," he said. "Our girls just want to do so well, so much. It wasn't selfishness."

He said the switch from a matchup zone defense to man-on-man in the second quarter keyed the defense, and that fed the offense.

"We haven't run a lot of man (-on-man defense), we practice it all the time," Ansbaugh said. "From there it's having the right five out there, and t's different for us every night."

Behind Langer, Beka Benge and Bailey Ansbaugh, St. Cloud drained seven three-pointers.

City of Life (20-5) got 16 points from Omega Payton and 15 and seven assists from Reyna Buggs in its win.

COL Omega Payton

City of Life's Omega Payton scored 16 points in the Warriors' 58-36 regional playoff win Thursday over Morningside Academy.

"It went pretty much according to plan," Coach Dewrie Buggs said.

The path back to Lakeland takes a tough turn Tuesday; the Warriors, ranked No. 2 in Class 2A by MaxPreps, head to Melbourne to face No. 1-ranked Florida Prep (19-9), who dismantled Victory Christian 73-9 Thursday and has already beaten City of Life (78-46 on Jan. 11 in Kissimmee) this season.

"We've got a great game plan to put us in a better position this time," coach Buggs said. "We've got to pressure the ball and slow down their point guard (senior Jayla Johnson, who scored 25 in that prior meeting) from scoring. The question is, will our girls buy in and believe in it?"