OHS basketball captures first district title in 28 years

OKEECHOBEE — The Okeechobee High School Brahman varsity basketball team rolled through their District 13-7A tournament Feb. 13-16 and achieved something the program had not been able to do since 1991 — win a district championship.

This is the 2018-19 Brahman varsity basketball team with their district championship trophy. Special to the Okeechobee News.

With the District 13-7A title now at Okeechobee High School, the Brahmans have earned themselves a home game in the regional quarterfinals of the state playoffs against Dillard High School at 7 p.m. Feb. 21.

Okeechobee kicked things off in the district tournament with a 70-33 blowout win over Heritage on Feb. 13. That set the Brahmans up for a rematch against the Bayside Bears on Feb. 15. Bayside was one of the few teams to beat Okeechobee in the regular season during the Brahmans’ 20-4 run in 2018-19.

But in the playoffs the Bears couldn’t keep pace with the high-powered Brahman offense, and Okeechobee came away with 63-49 victory. Much like they’ve done all season, Brahmans J-Quan Ferrol and Jemal Davis led the team in scoring, with Ferrol ending the game with 21 and Davis with 20. The duo also led the team in rebounds against the Bears, with Ferrol grabbing 12 and Davis 11.

That district semifinal win meant Okeechobee would move on to the district championship game on Feb. 16, where they’d face the team that knocked them out of the district playoffs last year, the Jensen Beach Falcons.

The Brahmans had already exacted some revenge on the Falcons during the regular season when they defeated them 50-45 back on Feb. 1, but taking the district championship out from under Jensen Beach would be the pièce de résistance for Okeechobee.

The game started in much the same way the regular-season match between the two teams played out, with the Falcons defense able to hold the Okeechobee offense back and keep the game close in the first half. But they wouldn’t be able to hold them back for long, as the offense was able to show enough life in the second half to overcome the Falcons and get the 44-40 win.

Senior Kimani McIntosh led the Brahmans in scoring in the district championship with 11 points.

It was an emotional and cathartic victory for the Brahmans, and for head coach Demetre Riles, who returned to helm the team back on Jan. 29 after taking a break from coaching responsibilities. Riles stepped away from the program shortly before losing his wife, Rondia Riles, to breast cancer on Dec. 21.

OHS Athletics Director Kenny Buckner took over for Riles, who understandably wasn’t sure whether he’d be back this season. Ultimately it was the players themselves who helped convince Riles to come back to the team. After his return on Jan. 29, Okeechobee has gone on a winning streak of eight in a row.

OHS Principal Dylan Tedders said he felt nothing but pride watching the Brahmans hold up the district trophy.

“Proud of players that lost a team mom, weren’t sure if they lost a coach, responded to a shuffle in the coaching staff, and overcame obstacles along the way,” said Mr. Tedders.

“They persevered like we always talk about in the Brahman Way, and they are now district champions forever.”

“We’re blessed to have coaches that pour their passion into these players,” continued Tedders. “Jovanny, Deforest, Raymond and Kenny had no easy task to carry on Riles’ vision.

They kept the ship sailing forward. As far as Coach Riles, I can’t express the overwhelming sense of pride when I saw him lift the district championship trophy. He is still mourning his loss while loving his Brahmans. He had that same trophy in his hands 28 years ago as a player. It’s a great story, and I’m just lucky to be a witness to it.”

Now, Okeechobee prepares to take the next step after winning the district championship, which means refocusing for their regional quarterfinal match on Feb. 21.

In the state tournament, opponents only get tougher, and that’s doubly true for the Brahmans’ first opponent, Dillard High School. Dillard is ranked the 20th best team in the state by high school sports website Maxpreps and was responsible for knocking Okeechobee out of the regional quarterfinals in 2016-17 on the path to eventually becoming state champions that year.

The OHS gym will be the place to be in Okeechobee when the district champion Brahmans take on Dillard in the state regional quarterfinal at 7 p.m. on Thursday.

Richard Marion is a staff writer and photographer at Lake Okeechobee News and can be reached at rmarion@newszap.com.

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