INDIANAPOLIS — When Columbus North trailed Homestead by nine points midway through the third quarter and was in danger of getting run out of Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the Bull Dogs didn’t change a whole lot.
They just started executing a lot better.
That execution turned a nine-point deficit into a seven-point lead in a little more than five minutes.
From there, North held on for a 62-56 victory Saturday to capture its first girls basketball state championship.
“We weren’t going to lose,” said senior Ali Patberg, who had 31 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists and took home the IHSAA Mental Attitude Award. “I was going to do everything I could to not lose.”
Patberg certainly did everything she could, but she had plenty of help from her teammates. Senior Sheyanne Street hit four 3-pointers to help the Bull Dogs (28-1) tie a Class 4A championship game record with eight 3’s as a team. She hit back-to-back game-tying 3’s late in the third quarter.
“You say, ‘Go in, go in, go in, go in,’” Street said. “But you can’t pause to celebrate. You have to wait until the end.”
Junior Elle Williams kept North in the game early with some big rebounds when the team got off to a slow start.
“I thought we started a little nervous for awhile, but we kept our composure, and we got right back into the game,” Williams said. “I have confidence in myself and in my team, and I knew we could do it. It’s the best feeling in the world.”
Senior Debie Gedeon did the job defensively on Homestead’s Karissa McLaughlin, holding her to 11 points, less than half her average.
“We had to execute what we’ve been working on all week,” Gedeon said. “I know that a couple times, I didn’t execute as well as I should have on (McLaughlin) in the first quarter, but we got into our groove defensively, and we stuck it out.”
Sophomore Imani Guy came up with a pair of blocked shots and scored four points.
“I was very nervous, but once I went in and started playing, I wasn’t as nervous,” Guy said. “It started off a little rocky, but toward the end, it got better.”
Sophomore Maliah Howard-Bass helped put the finishing touches on the Spartans (26-3). She hit five free throws in the final 1:13 to put it away and finished with 13 points.
“I was just thinking like we were at practice,” Howard-Bass said. “I just took a deep breath and shot them and made them.”
The Bull Dogs trailed 32-26 at halftime and were down 40-31 with four minutes left in the third quarter. That’s when they went on a 20-4 run to take a 51-44 lead with 6:44 left in the game.
“We’ve been down before, so this is nothing new for us,” Gedeon said. “We were a little shook, and (assistant coach) Ron (Patberg) was like, ‘Why are you guys so down?’ We just realized it’s only six or seven points, and that’s a couple possessions.”
Ali Patberg, after going only 5 of 17 from the field in the first half, went 7 of 11 in the second half.
“The coaches kept us calm,” Ali Patberg said. “My teammates played a good game. All our hard work has paid off.”
“Early, we were almost playing sixth-grade basketball,” North coach Pat McKee said. “We were nervous, we were chasing the ball, out of our principles. But somewhere in the second quarter, we got back to understanding where to be, when to take risks, when to just contain. The girls, the last three quarters, played outstanding defense. Homestead is an awesome team, and the last three quarters they only had 34 points.”
McKee said the comeback started with defense.
“It really started in the second quarter,” McKee said. “Defense is what got us back in the game. We went back to our principles.
“Then, offense, we were rushed,” he said. “Somewhere in there, we found a wonderful rhythm, and we really started executing some things. Ali made four or five in a row, and we got the lead. We managed from there on out and made enough free throws and handled the ball.”
North won despite an injury to junior starter Paige Littrell, who turned an ankle just more than a minute into the game. She returned after a couple of minutes, but did not score.
“I’m in a lot of pain right now,” Littrell said. “There was no question I was going back in. It was hard, but it’s all worth it right now. It’s unbelievable.”
The Bull Dogs finished the season on a 25-game winning streak.
“This is a wonderful group of girls,” McKee said. “They have committed to each other, they’ve sacrificed things. They’ve played team ball throughout.
“People talk about Ali, and she’s awesome,” he said. “But we have a bunch of other players who have stepped up as needed on offense, and the defense is all five. You can’t play defense unless all of them commit and play together, and they did.”