BLOOMINGTON — The Columbus North girls basketball team knew it wasn’t going to be able to repeat what it did against Columbus East earlier this season.
The Bull Dogs still did enough.
Riding a strong defensive effort and a couple of extended scoring runs, North was able to pull away from the fiesty Olympians down the stretch for a 61-42 victory in Friday’s second semifinal at the Class 4A Bloomington North Sectional.
The Bull Dogs (23-1) will play in tonight’s title game against Bloomington South, a 43-39 overtime winner against East Central in the other semifinal showdown.
“We knew we were going to get their best shot,” North senior Emily Kim said, “and I think we really prepared well for it. The coaches are getting us in the mindset of, every game is a game we could lose, and we need to be prepared to win and take every game seriously.”
Columbus East (14-11) was taking Friday’s game just as seriously.
The Olympians were not overwhelmed from the opening tip as they had been in a 63-21 defeat at North back on Dec. 17. Riley Meade opened the game with a 3-pointer, and another 3 from Britney Ballard at the 5:33 mark of the first quarter had East within one early at 7-6.
Those buckets would be the last ones for a while, though. The Olympians went the next 12 minutes and 20 seconds without a field goal, and the Bull Dogs took advantage of the drought, putting together an extended 18-2 run to build up a 17-point cushion.
Columbus East wasn’t done fighting, though. The Olympians scored the last five points of the half and opened the third quarter with an Audrey Wetzel 3 to get back within single digits at 25-16. They got as close as six, 32-26, on another Wetzel basket with 2:43 left in the period.
“We didn’t really care what the score was,” Wetzel said. “It wasn’t going to be over until that final buzzer rang.”
North scored the next six points to take a double-digit lead into the fourth, then opened the final quarter with nine consecutive points to extend the margin back to 19 points, 46-27, and effectively extinguish any hope of an East comeback.
“We weren’t playing Bull Dog basketball,” said Maliah Howard-Bass, who scored a game-high 24 points for North. “The coaches knew that, and they got on us a lot. They called timeout and yelled at us to get us back where we needed to be.
“After that talk, I felt like we came out and we did what we needed to do to get the win.”
The game was the last one in an East uniform for Wetzel, who finished with a team-high 16 points in defeat.
“It’s been a great four years. I couldn’t have asked for anything better. It sucks ending all those years to your crosstown rival, but they’re number one. The reality of it is they’re number one.”
The Bull Dogs, who won their regular-season meeting with Bloomington South, 61-48, on Jan. 16, aren’t expecting tonight to be any easier than Friday was.
“We’re expecting the same thing we got from East — their all,” Howard-Bass said. “Now, you lose, you’re done, and no one wants to be done. So we’re going to get everyone’s best, and hopefully we end up on top.”