By J. Daniel Pearson
For the News-Gazette
In what will most likely be the final home game of her stellar career, Eno Inyang scored 35 points to lead the St. Cloud Lady Bulldogs to a 59-52 win over Lake Howell in a Class 6A, Region 2 quarterfinal game on Friday night.
The win put St. Cloud (15-9) into a Tuesday regional semifinal road game against Winter Haven (16-1) – the team that trounced Lake Howell by 45 points in their district final a week earlier.
“It’s going to be an incredible challenge for us,” St. Cloud Head Coach Chad Ansbaugh said. “Winter Haven has both an incredible starting five and depth. Coach Johnnie Lawson has done a great job with that team.”
On a night when Inyang would become just the second player in St. Cloud history to reach the 2,000 career point mark, she was also the difference maker against the Lady Hawks. Not only did the Clemson signee drop in 35 points, she led the Lady Bulldogs with 15 rebounds and added 4 blocks and 4 assists.
“Without question, we knew we had a mismatch with her underneath,” Ansbaugh said. “But for some reason, we went away from trying to get the ball into her and then the few times when we did try to get it into her, we didn’t do a good job of taking care of the ball.”
St. Cloud jumped out to a 14-7 lead after one quarter and despite nine second quarter points from Inyang, Lake Howell cut the lead to a 30-25 at the half. Brace Keegan would score nine points at the start of the third quarter, including a pair of free throws that put the Lady Hawks up 45-39 midway through the period.
But Inyang scored nine in the period and Angie Rodriguez hit a big three pointer as St. Cloud pulled to within one, 45-44, after three periods.
The Lady Hawks had no answer for Inyang and St. Cloud in the fourth. Moriah Sanchez hit a three, Inyang added eight points and grabbed five rebounds as the Lady Bulldogs built a five-point lead and then played keep away for the final three minutes.
With the victory, St. Cloud advanced to the regional semifinals for a third consecutive year.
The only other Osceola County girls’ team still in action is City of Life Christian Academy (12-6). The Class 2A District 11 runner-up, City of Life stayed alive last week with a 74-22 regional quarterfinal win. The victory set up a Wednesday night regional semifinal on the road against Victory Christian (15-5). City of Life defeated Victory, 53-46, in a regular season matchup this season; but lost 50-42 in the district championship game last week.
In boys’ basketball action last week, St. Cloud upset Melbourne (78-64) in the Class 6A, District 5 tournament to reach the finals where they fell to Viera (77-51). As runner-up, the Bulldogs will advance to regional play – where they will draw a tough Bartow (16-4) team in tonight’s regional quarterfinal.
Like the Bulldogs, Osceola also advances to a regional quarterfinal. Under first year head coach Steve Perez, the Kowboys (13-8) defeated Davenport Ridge in the first round (48-45, before dropping a 49-41 decision to Windermere in the championship game. Osceola faces an outstanding Oak Ridge (19-2) team in its regional quarterfinal.
Having defeated both Eau Gallie and Merritt Island, the Gateway Panthers (10-2) move on as the Class 5A, District 8 runner-up and will face Auburndale (16-3) on the road tonight. City of Life (24-3) went down to top-ranked Orlando Christian Prep (22-0) by a 55-31 count, and will also advance to regional action tonight as the Class 2A, District 11 runner-up.