RICHMOND — Columbus North coaches put in a play during its Saturday morning shootaround designed for just the opportunity with which they were presented in the afternoon.
Unfortunately for the Bull Dogs, it didn’t go as expected.
Trailing by two points with 15 seconds remaining, North could only manage a contested 3-point attempt by Maliah Howard-Bass. Pike grabbed the rebound, was fouled and made one of two free throws with 2.3 seconds remaining to hang on for a 52-49 semistate win.
But the source of consternation with the Bull Dogs after the game was what they thought should have been a foul call on the Red Devils soon after North inbounded the ball with 15 seconds left. As Howard-Bass was dribbling toward the right side in front of the Bull Dogs’ bench, Ashlyn Huffman set a pick near the top of the key and was run over by a Pike player.
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“It worked perfectly, and I’m not normally one to get on the refs, but I think there was a bad no-call there that should have resulted in us shooting free throws,” said the normally mild-mannered Huffman. “We were just trying to get (Howard-Bass) to go off the screen and then set a back screen for me, but I got trampled.”
But instead of going to the free-throw line with a chance to tie the game, North had to settle for Howard-Bass’ shot under duress.
That the Bull Dogs (21-8) were even in the game at that point might have been a surprise to some who had seen them fall behind 27-15 in the final minute of the first half. The deficit was 27-17 at halftime.
“The coaches just brought us all together in the locker room and told us we need to play Columbus North basketball because the first half we kind of got caught off guard playing fast,” Howard-Bass said. “But I think our effort was there.”
But after a bad second quarter – a quarter in which Tessa Lomax scored all six of their points — the third quarter belonged to the Bull Dogs. Howard-Bass converted a three-point play and two 3-pointers, and Jenna Borger hit a 3 to tie the game at 30. North twice took one-point leads after pairs of Imani Guy free throws, then made it 36-33 on a one-and-one by Huffman with 29 seconds left in the third quarter.
“(Pike is) a very athletic team, and that caused some trouble for us,” Huffman said. “We knew that they were going to be fast, but we hadn’t played much against that all year, so we struggled a little at the beginning. But I was really proud of how we kind of settled into it and got back in the second half. Jenna and Maliah hit some big shots, and I thought we shared the ball a lot more, and we were more settled into what we were doing.”
The Red Devils (24-3) scored the final two points of the third quarter and the first nine of the fourth quarter to take a 45-36 lead. The Bull Dogs answered with 3-pointers from Borger and Huffman. Then, after a Pike 3-pointer, Howard-Bass hit a 3 to cut the lead to 48-45 with 2:52 remaining.
A basket by Huffman brought North within 49-47 with 1:22 left. After two Red Devil free throws, another Huffman basket made it 51-49 with 44 seconds remaining. Borger then rebounded a Pike missed shot, and the Bull Dogs called timeout with 15 seconds left to set up the fateful play.
“Our players showed a lot of determination and grit and decided they didn’t want to lose,” North coach Pat McKee said. “We competed at a very high level for a stretch and got a lead. Unfortunately, we didn’t get enough separation. At some point, we needed one more play on our end or one more call to help us get a little more ahead.”
Class 4A No. 4 Pike moves on to Saturday’s state finals, where it will play Homestead in the 8:15 p.m. title game. The Red Devils, who won their first regional last week, will be playing at state for the first time.
Pike coach Bob Anglea said he tried to throw the Bull Dogs a twist by putting his big players at the top of his zone defense to negate North’s screens.
“They did a great job of putting in some different plays,” Anglea said. “I think we were able to put them in some different positions in the first half, and they did a great job with adjustments, and we didn’t do so well in the third quarter on that.”
Michaela White led the Red Devils with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Angel Baker added 16 points for Pike, which outrebounded the Bull Dogs 30-24.
Howard-Bass led North with 18 points, while Huffman added nine points and five assists. Guy, Howard-Bass, Kenzie Patberg and Liz Tynan all grabbed four rebounds.
“Earlier this year, 10 points down, we would have folded,” Huffman said. “But we kept our head, and we came back. It wasn’t enough to win, but I was really proud of how we came back.”