Accidental heroes lift Bull Dogs

RICHMOND — I’ll freely admit it — I was one of those people who heard the news about Ashlyn Huffman’s season-ending injury and wondered how in the world the Columbus North girls were going to win Saturday.

Surely it will take a Herculean effort from somebody, right? With their point guard out, it felt like someone was going to have to leave Earth for the Bull Dogs to get past Roncalli and keep their hopes for a repeat state championship alive.

But see, that’s the thing — our natural instincts always tell us that when one player goes down, someone needs to fill the void. Those moments scream out for a hero, and all too often players want to become that hero and end up trying to do too much.

Columbus North won by taking the exact opposite approach.

“One of the things (head coach Pat McKee) told us all week this week is no one needs to be a hero,” senior guard Paige Littrell said. “We just have to play our roles. We’re still going to play the same roles we’ve been playing all year — just in those roles, we need to perfect those roles.”

The Bull Dogs weren’t perfect — they did commit 16 turnovers, and there were a handful of untimely fouls that led to and-ones for Roncalli All-American Lindsey Corsaro, who scored a game-high 29 points in defeat. But anytime it seemed as though the Rebels had seized the momentum, North’s girls just stayed cool — and more importantly, stayed within themselves.

The task of breaking Roncalli’s full-court pressure, which normally would have fallen primarily on Huffman, was handled by committee. Senior Emily Kim filled Huffman’s spot in the starting lineup and was rock solid, handing out seven assists and maintaining her composure throughout.

Junior center Imani Guy dominated the boards. Reserve underclassmen Nadia Lomax and Kenzie Patberg delivered some quality crunch-time minutes. Maliah Howard-Bass had an off shooting night but still delivered in the big moments, just as she has all season.

Everybody found a way to contribute just by doing what they were supposed to do — which is sometimes easier said than done in games like this.

“It’s hard because you’re like, ‘I want to do all these great things for this team,’” Patberg said, “but you’ve got to keep in mind that we have a certain role on this team.”

On Saturday, each of the Bull Dogs was able to resist the urge to chase heroism and just do her job. As a result, they all wound up becoming heroes anyway.

Now North will try to close the deal with another triumph at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis next weekend. For the senior class, it would be victory No. 104 against just six losses.

“I want so bad to go out a champion, and I will do anything it takes to do that,” Kim said. “Whether it’s me sitting on the bench, cheering from the sidelines and encouraging my other teammates or me playing out there, I just want to cut down some more nets.”

Ryan O’Leary is the sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at roleary@therepublic.com.