INDIANAPOLIS — Even the most optimistic Penn fan would never have predicted it would end up this way.
Saturday night was more or less a Murphy’s Law kind of night for the Columbus North girls basketball team.
Anything that could have gone wrong in a 68-48 loss to Penn did.
It’s rare enough that the Bull Dogs lose — Saturday’s defeat in the Class 4A state championship was just the seventh in four years for the seniors, who depart as the winningest class in school history with 103 victories.
“Look at the record, look at the accomplishments of championships,” North coach Pat McKee said of the legacy of his graduating players. “I think it says a lot about their character and their ability.”
The last time North was beaten by 20 or more? Feb. 16, 2013, when it fell to Bedford North Lawrence, 71-45, in a regional semifinal.
The iron was extremely unkind to the Bull Dogs on Saturday — North shot just 32 percent (19 of 59) from the field, including a 4-for-16 showing in the third quarter, when the Kingsmen took control of the affair. North grabbed 22 offensive rebounds, but the extra chances mattered not.
It was the polar opposite of the first meeting between North and Penn on Dec. 30, when the Bull Dogs hit eight of 10 3-point shots in a 67-52 victory.
While nobody on this team wanted to go out with a loss, there’s no diminishing what this team has accomplished. It won 27 games, the second highest total in school history. It got off to a 19-0 start, stretching a winning streak that began last season all the way to 44.
It reached the state final after losing Miss Basketball Ali Patberg, something that most outside observers doubted would happen. Columbus North girls basketball has solidified itself as a state power that does not rely on just one or two players for success.
And the sting of the loss won’t temper what should be extremely high expectations for next season. While the losses of Paige Littrell, Elle Williams, Emily Kim and Amy Weisner to graduation will leave a mark, North has an extremely strong nucleus returning.
Maliah Howard-Bass, Imani Guy and Ashlyn Huffman. Underclassmen Nadia Lomax, Kat Norman and Kenzie Patberg gained valuable experience in the postseason that should serve them well going forward.
The program’s future is extremely bright.
Saturday night’s performance was extremely un-North-like, and chances are you won’t see many more like it in the next year or two, just as you haven’t seen any like it for quite some time.
It was a mere hiccup in an extremely impressive recent history for the Bull Dogs.
It’s going to sting like crazy for a while — but this team will be back. Bank on it.
Ryan O’Leary is the sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at email@example.com.