OKEECHOBEE — The Osceola Middle School Warriors and Yearling Middle School Bulls boys basketball teams met for their first of two games this season on Dec. 19 in the OMS gym.
The Warriors’ dominant defense proved to be the difference-maker early. Osceola took a 20-9 lead into halftime over Yearling because they were able to take advantage of turnovers and hit their shots when they needed to.
“I thought our defense and discipline were great from the get-go,” said OMS basketball coach Justin Perman of his team’s performance. “We played with intensity from the start which put a little pressure on them and opened some things up for us offensively.”
Yearling opened the second half playing a little more aggressively on defense, and that strategy paid dividends throughout the first minutes of the third quarter. The Bulls forced some turnovers and denied the Warriors the chance to increase their lead.
Once they had the ball, however, the Bulls still couldn’t advance past the stingy Warrior defense.
That kind of high-energy defense that Yearling played in the opening minutes of the third quarter is hard for any team to maintain, so all Osceola had to do was limit the damage until they could take back control of the game.
And that’s exactly what they did.
After the third quarter ended, the Warriors’ lead sat at 26-13, thanks to some clutch performances from Warriors Symode Williams and Oliver Saunders down the stretch.
Toward the end of the game Perman was able to sub in some of the younger players on the team so they could gain some valuable experience. One of those players, Caleb Cruz, made a show-stopping play in the fourth quarter when he single-handedly forced a turnover, maneuvered around a Yearling defender and sank a layup.
The excitement of that play brought his fellow teammates on the bench to their feet. When a time-out was called, Cruz collected high fives and pats on the back from his Warrior squad.
“This team really supports each other,” said Perman. “They don’t care who scores, as long as somebody is scoring and doing it the right way. They do a great job at keeping each other up, which is really hard to do as a middle schooler when you have 15 kids playing for five spots. I give them all the credit for that.”
The Warriors and Bulls will meet again next year, this time at Yearling Middle School, on Jan. 23. The girls are scheduled to play at 4:30 p.m., while the boys will play at 5:45 p.m.