INDIANAPOLIS – The incredible journey of Columbus North senior Ali Patberg and her remarkable teammates had one final leg to finish Saturday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
It was a thriller.
Seemingly buried in the third quarter by a Homestead team that simply was playing better in the Class 4A girls basketball state title game, the Bull Dogs turned it around with astounding fury, eventually bringing Columbus North a 62-56 triumph.
Patberg, who finished with a highlight reel 31 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists, led a 20-4 run that wound through the third quarter and finally touched down when Patberg dropped a 3-pointer that gave her team a 51-44 lead.
“My team was behind me,” said Patberg, who spent most of the fourth quarter dribbling through a frustrated Spartans group that saw their dream of a championship slipping away. “They told me ‘We need you, it’s your time.’”
It was literally 10 minutes earlier that the North faithful was sitting quietly in despair, wondering what happened to the best girls basketball team ever from Columbus.
For the Spartans, it was simply a tease.
Patberg wouldn’t, and couldn’t, allow anything to mess up her team championship, the first Indiana High School Athletic Association basketball state title in her city’s history.
She scored 19 points in the final two quarters after struggled for much of the first two despite having 12 points in the opening 16 minutes. It took her an uncharacteristic 17 shots in the first half to get that total. Something was amiss.
When Homestead added the opening two buckets of the third quarter to push its lead to 37-26, it just didn’t seem to be North’s.
Then Patberg produced another magical stretch of basketball.
“I had worked too hard all my life for this,” she said.
Homestead tried to make a final run in the fourth quarter, but Patberg controlled the ball 80 percent of the time.
Maliah Howard-Bass made five of her six free throws in the final seconds, and the victory was complete.
“The first quarter we just didn’t play good defense,” North head coach Pat McKee said of his team falling behind 22-15 and working through the next two quarters to wipe out that deficit. “We played sixth-grade defense. We were just chasing it around.
“But after that quarter, we found our defense. That’s what got us back.
“And, of course, Ali found her stroke.”
Patberg was taken out of the game with a second remaining to take a bow, and she embraced her father, North assistant coach Ron Patberg, for several seconds before being swallowed by her teammates.
“It’s unbelievable,” Ron Patberg said. “All these years and all those miles we traveled. It’s all worth it.”