Lady Lions continue to surge as District 8-AAA action looms

By Maurice Patton

COLUMBIA — Pleased, but not satisfied.

That would be the mindset of fourth-year Columbia Central girls basketball coach Joshua Bugg, who – after Wednesday’s 49-46 win over visiting Franklin – has guided this season’s Lady Lions to nearly as many victories as his first three teams totaled.

“We’re thankful that we’ve been able to play and be successful, especially compared to the past,” Bugg said. “Obviously the goal is to win, so that’s exciting. But more exciting is seeing the kids, on a day-to-day basis, putting in the work that produces those results. You can see it in their faces, in their interactions.

“We’ve come a long way in a short amount of time. It’s fun seeing them have fun and win.”

With Wednesday’s victory, following a 50-47 win Monday at Goodpasture (which has its own storyline), Central takes an 11-3 mark into the new year – raising Bugg’s career coaching mark to 26-63. His initial season produced a 6-19 finish, followed by a 5-20 campaign in 2018-19 and a 4-21 record last year.

“I think they’re starting to understand the process, taking the tools we’re giving them and being successful,” Bugg said. “I think we were getting closer to the top of the hill last year than our record indicated.”

Columbia Central’s Janiyha Riley scored 15 points in Wednesday’s 49-46 win over visiting Franklin, raising her scoring average to 12.3 points per game through the Lady Lions’ 11-3 campaign. (Courtesy photo by Buffy Holt)

Resilience has been one of the keys to this year’s team, as witnessed by the Goodpasture contest. Less than two weeks earlier, Central had faced the Lady Cougars in the B4 Christmas Classic at Hardy Loyd Gymnasium. Playing without Josie Parks and Janiyha Riley, the Lady Lions dropped a 41-35 decision –before the two teamed for 30 points in Monday’s win.

Against Franklin, Central overcame a 29-point effort by Lady Admirals post Kate O’Neil as Parks scored 25 points and Riley 15. With mostly young and inexperienced interior players, Bugg knows his team will be challenged in the paint most nights.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a ‘concern’. It’s an awareness,” he said. “We counter (opponents’ size) with our speed and quickness. If we can score the ball at a decent rate, we’re going to get in our defense and turn you over. Those bigger kids can’t always handle the ball.

“We’re working on doing a better job with that. We have a strategy in terms of defending the post. We think we can clean a lot of that up. We have three or four kids that are 5-8, 5-9, so we can get better there.”

And with the ‘buy-in’ that has taken place throughout the program – from assistants Carden Virgo, Megan Kilburn and Jermarcus McKnight to the players – Bugg expects that to be the case.

Jenice Bailey, the only senior on the Columbia Central roster, has emerged as a team leader during the Lady Lions’ 11-3 start. “When she speaks, the kids listen,” fourth-year coach Joshua Bugg said. (Courtesy photo by Buffy Holt)

“Just being able to lean on our great assistants and our players … The strength is in our team,” he said. “We’re doing it with a really young group. We’ve got them playing fast. They’re quick and strong. I feel like we can compete with most (Class) 3A teams.

“We’re optimistic. We know we can do so much better.”

The Lady Lions resume play Jan. 5 at District 8-AAA rival Franklin County.

Columbia Central girls 49, Franklin 46

F 12 6 8 20 – 46
C 17 5 13 14 – 49

Franklin (46) – Jean Costello 6, Breanna Swiger 4, Lyla Gardner 5, Kate O’Neal 29, Dylann Gardner 2
Columbia Central (49) – Saviya Morgan 4, Ryleigh Hamm 4, Janiyha Riley 15, Jenice Bailey 1, Josie Parks 25
3-pointers – Franklin 3 (Costello 2, L. Gardner), Columbia Central 2 (Parks 2)

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