Saturday night’s state championship victory was the crowning achievement in an incredible four-year run by the Columbus North girls basketball team.
It’s the first IHSAA basketball state title in school history, and the first by a city team — boys or girls.
That accomplishment is historic for Columbus. But what else is impressive is the way the Bull Dogs earned the title: They never gave up.
Such determination was on display in the second half of the Class 4A title game when North overcame an 11-point, third-quarter deficit and pulled past Homestead for a 62-56 victory.
That determination was borne out of prior-year disappointments and a burning desire to reach the top.
Three seasons ago, North reached the 4A championship game — a first for the program. The Bull Dogs led North Central by two points with 7.7 seconds left in regulation. However, North Central forced overtime and won by two points.
After coming so close, North had every reason to believe it could make it back to the state title game and finally bring home the trophy. The Bull Dogs had confidence from such a successful season and featured several Division I-caliber players on their roster, most notably Ali Patberg.
However, they suffered more heartbreak before experiencing the thrill of a championship. Each of the next two seasons ended with a regional tournament loss to Bedford North Lawrence, which went on to win back-to-back 4A state championships.
This season represented the final opportunity for a state title with Ali Patberg as their leader, and Bedford remained an important hurdle. North proved the mission was possible, though. The Bull Dogs beat Bedford by eight to claim the regional championship, then avenged their only loss this season by defeating Lawrence North for the semistate crown.
Despite struggles in the state title game, North kept fighting, using tough defense, a heavy dose of Patberg and timely buckets by other players — a theme throughout their title trek. Patberg led all players with 31 points, senior Sheyanne Street nailed key 3-pointers during the second half-surge and sophomore Maliah Howard-Bass sank five free throws in the final 1:13.
The Bull Dogs and Patberg concluded their four-year run with a record that will be tough for future Bull Dogs to match: 99-9, four Conference Indiana titles, four sectional crowns, two regional championships, two semistate titles and one state championship. Their 28 wins this season set a school record.
The Notre Dame-bound Patberg, who should be a frontrunner to be selected as the state’s best girls basketball player, finished as the school’s career leader in points scored (2,026), assists (534) and steals (273) and finished second in rebounds. She also won the Patricia L. Roy Mental Attitude Award at the state final.
North and Patberg carved an impressive legacy for themselves — one for all basketball players to aspire to, and one that gave the Columbus community reason to be extremely proud.