For the past two seasons, the Columbus High girls basketball team has been trying to build something that could compete against the elite Class AAAA teams at the state level.
Led by a half-court defense coach Joseph Cherrone called the best in the city, maybe the state, the Lady Blue Devils may have found the right mix.
They proved again on Monday the level at which they could compete, defeating region foe Fayette County 47-43 on Monday at home. Fayette (14-7, 8-2) was ranked No. 8 in the state in the latest MaxPreps power ratings, five spots behind No. 3 Columbus (21-1, 11-0).
So far, so good, Cherrone said of his teams success this season. Were going to continue to work and hopefully give ourselves a chance in the region and state playoffs.
Monday was certainly a big step for the Lady Blue Devils, who were ousted by Chestatee in the first round of the state playoffs last season.
Led by 20 points from senior Alexia Manning, Columbus started strong in the first and third quarters, giving itself enough of a cushion when its talented opponent made a couple late pushes.
Five missed free throws in the final minute could have derailed an otherwise strong performance for Columbus, but it had just enough of a gap at the end to keep the game at a two-possession deficit.
We were strong enough in the first and third that we were able to survive Fayette County at the end, Cherrone said. Theyre a very good defensive team. They match up well with our size and forced us into some bad shots, but we had a big enough cushion that it didnt matter.
Columbus defense, meanwhile, was as strong as ever. Featuring great size inside, the Lady Blue Devils contested shots the entire contest , only allowing a couple late three-pointers to get the Lady Tigers back into the contest.
I think we have the best half-court defense in the city, maybe the state, Cherrone said. We try to do a good job preparing them for the next opponent, letting them know what they do and who to watch out for.
The result is a team that has just one loss, a 49-42 affair against Northside in the Shaw Christmas tournament. Since that game, Columbus has reeled off 12 straight wins and is in control of its region destiny.
Now, the goal is to maintain focus and not get ahead of itself.
We just have to keep our head, said Manning, who is averaging a team-high 13.8 points per game this season. We cant get caught up in everything, the wins or the attention.
Cherrone doesnt see that being a problem.
We have a lot of humble girls, he said. Some of them dont even know what our record is.
It is 21-1. They will try for No. 22 at 6 p.m. Tuesday at home against Alexander.
FAYETTE COUNTY BOYS 57, COLUMBUS 48:
The Columbus boys dropped a region contest 57-48 against Fayette County on Monday.
Despite a solid performance, which had the Blue Devils (7-14, 1-10) within seven points inside of three minutes to go in the game, the Tigers (16-5, 8-2) simply had too many answers.
The Tigers hit 10 three-pointers and had four players in double-figures in the game.
They do a great job spreading the floor and shooting threes, Columbus coach George Williams said of Fayette County. Im proud of the kids, though. They gave a pretty good effort tonight.
The Blue Devils were led by JaQuan Mason (16 points) and Marvin Lloyd (13 points).
They host Alexander at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Monday at Columbus
Fayette 5 18 10 1243
Columbus 21 7 10 947
Fayette County (43)
Kayla Smith 17, Styles 8, Harper 5, Davis 5, Jones 3, Calhoun 3, Williams 2.
Alexia Manning 20, Tatyana Wyatt 12, Gunter 7, Floyd 3, Lloyd 3, Hayes 2.
Records: Fayette County, 14-7, 8-2; Columbus, 21-1, 11-0. Next: Fayette County, Tuesday at Shaw; Columbus, Tuesday vs. Alexander at home.
Monday at Columbus
Fayette 19 10 13 1557
Columbus 11 6 13 1848
Fayette County (57)
Chaz Berry 14, Kevel Smith 12, Dante Sterling 11, C.J. Johnson 10, Elliott 8, King 2.
JaQuan Mason 16, Marvin Lloyd 13, Gardner 8, Ivey 4, Johnson 4, Harris 3.
Records: Fayette County, 16-5, 8-2; Columbus, 7-14, 1-10. Next: Fayette County, Tuesday at Shaw; Columbus, Tuesday vs. Alexander at home.