INDIANAPOLIS — Not long after Columbus North put the finishing touches on a 67-52 win against Penn in the finals of the North Invitational in December, Bull Dogs head coach Pat McKee and assistant Ron Patberg were looking back on the game.
Patberg’s analysis: “That was the hardest 15-point win we’ve ever had.”
The Bull Dogs led by 17 points early in the second half of that Dec. 30 matchup of two teams that were unbeaten at the time. The Kingsmen rallied to cut the lead to two with 3:41 left in the game, but North finished with a 17-2 run.
Saturday night, the the top-ranked and defending state champion Bull Dogs (27-1) and No. 4 Penn (27-2) will meet in a rematch in the Class 4A state finals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“There are some things that will help both of us prepare,” McKee said. “But at the same time, both teams are different now.”
For starters, both teams have different point guards. North’s Ashlyn Huffman, who made the all-tournament team in that North Invitational, tore her meniscus in the Bull Dogs’ regional final victory against Evansville Central and is done for the season.
Meanwhile, Penn has American University recruit Kaitlyn Marenyi back at the point after she missed 13 games with a stress reaction to swollen tissue around the bone area in her foot.
“You can talk about who was in the lineup, who wasn’t in the lineup,” Penn coach Kristi Ulrich said. “The bottom line is, all the kids have to come out and they have to play. They have to execute whatever the game plan may be.”
For the Kingsmen, that will likely mean getting out on North’s 3-point shooters. The Bull Dogs hit six 3s in the first quarter and went 8 for 10 for the game from long range in their previous meeting.
North led that game 25-14 after one quarter and 36-24 at halftime. Maliah Howard-Bass led the Bull Dogs with 20 points, while Paige Littrell scored 19 and Imani Guy added 10.
“When you give up six 3s in the first quarter, then you’re going to be digging yourself out of a hole the entire way,” Ulrich said. “It took everything we had to be able to crawl our way, scratch our way back into it.”
As an online video streaming team from Penn was leaving Memorial Gym that night, McKee told them the teams might see each other again in the state finals.
Ulrich, on the other hand, wasn’t looking that far ahead.
“At that point in time in the season, you’re focused on that particular game right there, and not necessarily looking like, ‘Oh, I hope we see them again in the state finals,'” Ulrich said. “Our approach for everything is one game at a time. We looked at that loss as, ‘These are some things that we have to do better moving forward if we even want to have the opportunity for that chance come state tournament time.'”
This marks the second year in a row that the finalists from the North Invitational are meeting again in the 4A state finals. Last year, North beat Homestead in its tourney and again to win their first state title.
That prompted a sales pitch from McKee.
“I guess, everybody in the state, if you want to make the finals, come to our holiday tournament,” McKee said.