BEDFORD — Ali Patberg, the Columbus North senior who just scored 32 points, breathed a sigh of relief with the rest of her teammates Monday night.
It won’t last long.
Shortly after holding off Evansville Central 76-66 in the semifinals of the Bedford North Lawrence Regional, the Bull Dogs turned their attention to a regional final match-up against the host Stars.
North and BNL will play for the title at 7 p.m. today.
Before the Bull Dogs could secure their spot in the championship, they had to withstand a serious challenge from Evansville Central. North led by as many as 18 with 5:15 left in the third quarter, but the Bears clawed back to within 72-66 with 1:06 left in the game before the Bull Dogs put it away,
“We had opportunities, and we missed some layups and we missed some free throws,” North coach Pat McKee said. “If we convert a little better when we’re up 10 or 12, then we do put them away.
“Obviously we better play better (against Bedford North Lawrence). We better convert every chance we get.”
The key stretch in Monday’s game came in the final minute of the first half and the first three minutes of the second half. The Bull Dogs (25-1) were clinging to a 33-31 lead when they scored the final six points of the first half to take a 39-31 halftime lead.
North then scored 14 of the first 18 points in the second half to complete a 20-4 run and take a 53-35 advantage.
“I think that was significant, especially the last two points (of the first half),” McKee said. “Obviously, the first half was very competitive, and that gave us a little separation. The late second, early third is probably the whole difference in the game.”
“I thought that run in the third quarter was great,” said Patberg, who also had 10 rebounds. “I was hoping we could continue with that run, but they’re a good team.
“A win is a win, that’s what we’ve been saying. I’m kind of disappointed with myself, free-throw wise (12-of-15). But they’re a really good team and they weren’t 22-3 for no reason. They’re physical, they attack the basket really well, and that’s what we struggle with, containing the ball.”
Maliah Howard-Bass hit three 3-pointers and finished with 19 points for North. Paige Littrell added 10 points.
“I am very relieved,” Howard-Bass said. “I felt like we all played well together. When our shooters shoot and our drivers drive and we can combine a bunch of those things, then we’re terrific.”
Zion Sanders scored 20 points, and Zuriel Sanders added 19 points and 10 rebounds for Evans-ville Central.
The Bull Dogs were playing their first game on BNL’s Damon Bailey Court since losing to the Stars 71-45 in the 2013 regional semifinals.
“It was funny because we came out to warm up and everybody was like, ‘Oh, this floor,” Patberg said. “I think to get a win on this floor is good for our confidence — to know that this gym isn’t cursed.”
BNL broke open a close game in the third quarter to pull away for a 60-44 win against Center Grove in Monday’s second semifinal. The Stars are ranked No. 1 in the state in Class 4A and No. 3 in the nation by USA Today, while North is No. 2 in the state and No. 29 in the nation.
“We have to realize they’re just another team,” Patberg said. “I think that’s been half the battle the past two years, we think they’re something that we can’t handle.”
BNL, which beat the Bull Dogs in last year’s North Regional final, features a pair of dominant post players in 6-foot-2 Purdue recruit Dominique McBryde and 6-3 Michigan State recruit Jenna Allen.
“We have to make their guards handle the ball and make them hit shots from outside,” Patberg said.
“There are some challenges,” McKee said. “They still have Jenna Allen and Dominique McBryde. We seem to do fine when there’s one big girl. Tonight, we were challenged with one big girl, but we managed. With two big girls of their quality, it will be a real challenge. Hopefully, we do things and do things right. We should have some advantages, too, I hope, and hopefully, our pluses will outweigh our minuses.”