BEDFORD — A less-than-stellar night from the free-throw line in last week’s sectional final led Ashlyn Huffman to stay after practice for a little extra work this week.
The additional free-throw shooting paid off. Huffman went 11 of 14 from the line in Saturday’s regional semifinals, then converted a clutch one-and-one with 40 seconds left in the final to help Columbus North hang on for a 49-45 upset win against the host Class 4A No. 9 Stars in the Bedford North Lawrence Regional final.
The Bull Dogs (21-7), winners of their third consecutive regional, will now look for their third straight semistate crown Saturday at either Richmond or Jeffersonville. North will face 4A No. 4 Pike, which upset top-ranked North Central in overtime.
“We just wanted to play confident and play as a team, and I feel like we did that,” said Maliah Howard-Bass, who led the Bull Dogs with 19 points against Bedford. “We overcame some of our bad times, and that helped us push through.”
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The Stars (21-5) led 20-13 after scoring the first seven points of the second quarter. But the Bull Dogs came back to take a 27-26 lead late in the first half and trailed 29-27 at the break.
After Bedford kept its two-point lead heading into the fourth quarter, the final eight minutes featured seven lead changes.
The Bull Dogs took the lead for good on a basket by Imani Guy with 1:23 remaining. After the Stars’ Kennedy Bunch missed a 3-pointer, Huffman stepped up and converted the one-and-one with 40 seconds left.
After practice Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, Huffman shot 20 free throws and ran a down-and-back to the other end of the court, repeating that five times to reach 100. Then she made herself make 10 in a row before she left.
“I was confident in how I shot them all week, and I’ve been preparing all week for that moment,” Huffman said.
After Bedford’s Allie Fugate missed a 3-pointer, Howard-Bass made the front end of a one-and-one with 16 seconds left to seal the victory.
Guy finished with 14 points. Kenzie Patberg had four rebounds to lead the Bull Dogs to a 19-17 advantage on the boards.
“Our coaches had amazing game plans for us, and we executed well throughout the entire game, and I think that’s why we won,” Guy said.
Bull Dogs coach Pat McKee credited assistant coaches Ron Patberg, Brett White and Ranae Isaak for coming up with the offensive and defensive game plans against Evansville Central and Bedford.
One key adjustment they made against the Stars came when they brought Liz Tynan off the bench and put her on Bunch. Bunch, who had made three 3-pointers and scored 11 in the first half, had only one 3-pointer and five points in the second half.
“(Bedford is) a really quality team, Evansville Central was a quality team and fortunately, we came with enough energy and enough bounce to make enough plays to win the games,” McKee said. “When we got behind in both games, we were able to dig back and get it close at halftime. They just pieced it together and found a way to win.”
The Bull Dogs advanced to the final with a 66-50 semifinal win against Evansville Central (23-2). North jumped out to an early 8-2 lead, but fell behind 27-20 with 2 minutes left in the first half.
The Bull Dogs put up the final six points of the first half to cut it to one, then scored the first four of the third quarter to take a 30-27 lead.
“It was huge,” Howard-Bass said. “We just stayed there and stayed there, and then we finally got the lead, and we got up some, and when they started fouling, we hit free throws.”
The Bull Dogs went 21 of 30 from the free-throw line in the second half and 25 of 34 for the game.
That was a sharp contrast to the sectional final, when they made only 8 of 19 free throws in the fourth quarter in a 43-41 win against Columbus East.
“Today is more normal with us with our free throws,” McKee said. “Last Saturday, we didn’t have our legs late in the game, and we missed some and made that game tighter than it had to be. But today, we were good.”
That included Huffman.
“(Evansville Central) probably thought I couldn’t shoot free throws, and I was able to knock them down,” she said.
Huffman led North with a game-high 24 points. Howard-Bass added 23.
Kenzie Patberg grabbed seven rebounds for the Bull Dogs, who were outrebounded 30-29.
“Our coaches came up with a great game plan, and I was really proud of how our team executed it,” Huffman said. “When they had a few runs on us, we didn’t let it get to us, and we overcame it, which is something we’ve really been struggling with all season.”