Men’s basketball: Osceola beats Gateway by biting his nails, falls against the good team of Olympia
When contacted his good friend and Olympia coach Rob Gordon about a game in 2020-21, Osceola boys’ basketball coach Steve Mason said he had the possibility to withdraw.
“Rob asked me if I was sure I really wanted to program them because he felt they were going to be good enough,” Mason said. “I told him the only way for me to know if we have a chance to be good would be to play against great teams, so we scheduled the game.”
And although the Titans 8-0 inflicted Osceola (7-1) his first loss of the season Friday night, 73-59, Mason was anything but down after the 14-point loss.
“I was a lot more disappointed with some of the wins we had earlier this year than with tonight’s loss,” Mason said. “They’re ranked second overall in Class 7A and were obviously the best team we’ve played with all year. I was extremely proud of our kids’ efforts and if we had done a better job hitting our shots open we certainly would have had a chance to win tonight.
Cold shots in the first half – both from the ground and from the foul line – put Osceola in a first hole. The Kowboys scored just seven field goals and were 3 of 7 off the free throw line being limited to just 20 points in the first half. Meanwhile, sophomore Jizzy James was busy putting on a show as he topped the entire Kowboys squad with 21 points in the first half as Olympia built a 37-20 lead. at intermission.
The Titans would use an early run in the third quarter to increase their lead to 21. But Sean and Chris Combs combined for 11 points in the period as Osceola hit back to close the lead to 10 on two occasions. At the end of the period, James made a serious foul on a layup which was later ruled as a flagrant foul. The Titans’ top scorer made the resulting four free throws and also gave possession to Olympia. This momentum allowed the Titans to regain the lead to 13 at the end of three, 52-39.
Cory Vega would score eight points in the final period and Vic Guzman would add six as the Kowboys had another run – reducing the lead to nine points at 64-55. But James would hit a layup and Joey Evans followed with a three-point pointer as Olympia reduced the lead to double digits and sailed to victory.
James finished with 34 points; Vega led all Osceola scorers with 16, Tyler Newsome with 11 and Chris Combs with 10.
“Cory Vega is becoming a real force for us,” Mason said of center Kowboy who missed much of the preseason as the starting offensive lineman for the football team. Osceola. “He’s only six feet tall, but he plays like he’s 6-5 or 6-6. He definitely has the tenacity of the football mentality.
Even with the loss, it was still a good week for the Kowboys, who beat Celebration (63-51) on Monday night and rival Gateway (54-53) on Thursday in a biting way. Although Osceola was favored against the Panthers, Mason wasn’t surprised the game was close.
“I felt maybe we had a little more talent, but I’m certainly not shocked that we had to fight and fight for the win,” Mason said. “Travis (coach Travis James) does a great job with them and he always has his kids ready to play us. We were lucky to come away with a win.
Osceola used an urgent defense to take a 20-11 lead after a quarter but Kowboy’s shooters would turn cold in the second half and Dimas Cervantes would score a 14-point streak by the Panthers with seven points as Gateway closed the gap at 25-24 at intermission.
The Kowboys would increase their lead to nine in the third quarter, but the Panthers got five points from Jorden Birmingham to fight back. The Kowboys needed a three point buzzer from Sean Combs to take a 42-37 lead after three.
After the Panthers tied the score at 50-50 late in the game, Chris Combs and Newsome slammed back-to-back buckets to reduce the lead to four with 1:17 remaining. Cervantes would lose a three at 1:01 to bring the score to 54-53; which would set up a spectacular finish where Osceola needed a big game and a bit of luck to hold on for the win.
The big play came in the 30th second when Birmingham had a clear path to the basket, but Sean Combs came in from behind and made a huge block on the layup attempt to keep Osceola by a point.
A turnaround from Osceola returned the ball to Gateway with 17 seconds left and with time expired Cervantes shot a foul with 2.2 seconds left. Surprisingly, Cervantes – who has made his previous 10 free throw attempts, including his four in the game – missed both ends. Chris Combs grabbed the rebound and suffered a foul. Although he missed the one-on-one lead, Gateway failed to shoot and Osceola held on for the win.
Vega led all Osceola players with 13, Chris and Sean Combs also hit double digits, scoring 12 and 10 points each.
For Gateway, who fell to 6-4 this season, Cervantes led all scorers with 18; while Velez added 11 and Yangel Malpica had 10. “I was really proud of our efforts tonight,” James said of his team. “We kind of ended up in a track and field competition with them in the first half and we knew it was a mistake. We settled in and came back to the game.
Both teams will participate in holiday tournaments during the school break. Gateway heads to Palm Bay starting Tuesday, when they place Eustis at 4:30 p.m.