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City of Life is 2A state champ!

Posted on Tuesday, February 27, 2018 at 6:52 pm

The City of Life Christian Academy Warriors celebrate with the Class 2A girls basketball state championship trophy Tuesday at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland.
News-Gazette Photo/Martin Maddock

By Ken Jackson
Staff Writer

For the third year in a row, an Osceola County high school squad has claimed a basketball state title.

Despite early foul trouble and a fourth-quarter rally from Ormond Beach Calvary Christian, the City of Life Christian Academy Warriors brought the Class 2A girls trophy home to the Kissimmee school Tuesday.

Freshman Omega Payton scored 15 points with five steals and played big minutes running COL’s offense in the second quarter as the Warriors defeated the Lions, 51-34, thanks to a huge defensive effort. City of Life (20-5) held Calvary (14-14) to 3-for-24 shooting in the first half and romped out to an early 23-5 lead with six minutes left in the second quarter.

“It’s humbling, but it’s what we came here for,” said third-year COL Coach Dewrie Buggs. “We had a plan, realistically we thought it would take four years, but when it came together earlier this year, I thought this could be the year.”

Playing with her own foul trouble, power forward Asia Harvey recorded her second double-double of the state tournament, tallying 13 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out with three minutes left.

“I’m proud of how we handled some tough situations,” Harvey said after Tuesday’s game.

Point guard Reyna Buggs, the hub of the Warriors offense, also picked up three first-quarter fouls and was on the bench much of the first half. She rallied in the second have to finish with 10 points, four assists and four steals. Debra Buggs (5 points), Kianie Cummings (5, with 11 rebounds) and Josie De Pool-Maisonet (3) rounded out the scoring.

“This season has been crazy to look back on,” Reyna Buggs said. “We’ve worked so hard, and I’m so proud of everyone on this team and what we’ve gone through.”

Unlike Monday’s semifinal, a 72-49 win over Boca Raton Grandview Prep, when the teams played a tight first half and the Warriors broke it open in the third quarter, City of Life clamped down Tuesday against Calvary early and opened a 18-5 first-quarter lead that swelled to 23-5 three minutes into the second.

The Warriors anticipated many of Calvary’s shots well and contested most. The Lions were just 1-for-17 shooting in the first quarter to the astonishment of Calvary Coach Rick Perez.

“They put pressure on us that maybe we didn’t expect, but we took a number of good, open shots, they just didn’t fall,” he said. “Those good looks are shots that we normally make. I give credit to City of Life for their defense.”

It didn’t get much better for Calvary in the second quarter, as they managed just two Mariah Perez field goals, and City of Life expanded the lead to 31-13 at the half with Payton and Debra Buggs ran the offense as Reyna Buggs sat out with her foul trouble.

“I knew I had to step up and be the point guard,” Payton said of that second quarter. “I just wanted to do the things Reyna does when we’re successful.”

Coach Buggs said he would hold Reyna out of certain sets in practice.

“That was the situation we trained for. We needed it today and Omega stepped up and did amazing,” he said.

Reyna Buggs returned to the floor to start the third quarter, and the Warriors offense got an immediate spark. They opened the half on a 12-2 run after Debra Buggs, after a hot shooting game Monday, hit her lone three-pointer to swell the lead to a game-high 28, 43-15, with 2:29 left in the third.

But Calvary, playing in its second-straight 2A title game (the Lions lost to Grandview Prep in the 2017 championship) would not go away quietly. The Lions answered with a 16-0 run that spanned the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth, when Calvary guard Mariah Perez, on her way to scoring a game-high 21 points, made four buckets in the first 1:08 of the final quarter. With the lead at 45-31 with just under five minutes to play, Coach Buggs called a timeout, and walked away.

“I went to talk to the ref, and he knew why I was there,” he said. “I wanted the girls to work it out themselves. I expected that run. Calvary deserved to be here and they played with heart and fight.”

Reyna Buggs said the talk during that time out was about dictating the game play like they had for three quarters.

“We knew we had to calm down, and that we were letting them control how we play,” she said. “We just wanted to end playing like we did at the beginning.”

She, Payton and the rest of the ball handlers slowed the tempo down to work the clock. And after Payton sank a mid-range jumper following a long possession to make it 51-34 with 1:32 remaining, she gave a subtle fist pump, knowing the game was won.

Heck, Calvary Christian knew it. The Warriors bench, and their fans knew it. The whole building knew it — that City of Life had its championship.

The Warriors were as impressive on defense Tuesday (the Lions finished the game shooting 21.7 percent from the floor) as they were offensively on Monday, and they were on fire at both ends in two prior regional playoff games.

City of Life cut through the playoff bracket like a hot knife through butter. Not counting a 77-40 victory in the District 2A-5 championship game, they won four playoff games by a total of 102 points, and held opponents to an average of 43 points per game.

All of this was accomplished by a roster with zero seniors — meaning the Warriors left Lakeland as a favorite to return to next year’s 2A Final Four, if not the championship game.

“I hope we come back next year,” Coach Buggs said. “Our future is definitely bright.”

“I want to enjoy this moment for a while,” Reyna Buggs said. “But I already can’t wait for next season.”

The championship is the first for an Osceola County girls team since St. Cloud’s Class 4A win in 1994.