These Bull Dogs have a lot of fight in them. They are going to need it.
Anytime a school finishes second in the state in a sport, as the Columbus North girls basketball team did a year ago, I’m sure the immediate thought of the fans is about the team taking the next step.
In reality, finishing as the second best team in Indiana, or fourth, or seventh, is an amazing accomplishment in itself. Each season should be judged as a single entity and not connected with anything from the past or the future. The ebb and flow of students makes it impossible for a coach or a program to build toward a state championship. This isn’t, after all, the NBA.
That being said, we’re human. We know that North (12-0) has Ali Patberg, Kelsey Cunningham and Tayler Goodall back, so why not raise the expectations to “state title or bust.”
And watching the Bull Dogs beat two of the state’s top teams, Roncalli and Fort Wayne South, last Saturday was a thing of beauty in terms of girls basketball.
If you are a fan of the sport, then you had to love the way that the Bull Dogs adjust to their situation. Roncalli played a tough, packed-tight zone defense. Patberg, listed as 5-foot-10, went inside to the post to keep the attention focused on her. Then it was a matter of tremendous patience, working the ball around the perimeter until either sharpshooter Cunningham or Goodall opened up for a 3-point attempt.
Fort Wayne South offered a much different challenge, setting up a lot more with man-to-man pressure while relying on some bigger bodies to shove North around in the paint. With more room to negotiate and attack, Patberg had the ball in her hands more at the top of the key and directed an attacking offense that had no need to rely on the 3-point shot.
Against Roncalli, Cunningham and Goodall had a combined 10 3-point baskets. Against Fort Wayne South, they had two.
Making everything work is that the Bull Dogs simply don’t get flustered. They have a “been-there, done-that” feel to them. They are a collectively smart basketball team, which assesses the situation and reacts.
It’s no fluke that North has been winning close games. The Bull Dogs beat Franklin Central 43-42, Lawrence North 64-62, Lawrence Central 40-39 and Roncalli 40-37.
These Bull Dogs are tough as nails when the game is on the line. If the state championship were decided by a best of five playoff series, I would put my money on North.
Unfortunately, the state title is not decided by a series of games. The tournament is one-and-done, like the NCAA, which puts North in a precarious position. Sophomore Jessica Wagers is the only player on the team who is 6-foot tall. Sophomore Hannah Poindexter is 5-foot-10 as is freshman Paige Littrell. Senior Hannah Ballard, who is 5-foot-8, gives North four guards in the starting lineup.
At 9 a.m. today, North faces Class 4A No. 1 Hamilton Southeastern in the Hall of Fame Tournament at the New Castle Fieldhouse. The game was pushed back from Thursday due to the weather. As a side note, you might have seen the game still listed as being played on Thursday in Ted Schultz’s column, but due to the extreme weather, The Republic moved up to a much earlier deadline. The game was changed after the page went to press.
Hamilton Southeastern is led by 6-foot-4 Taya Reimer, who is headed to Notre Dame. Considering that North had trouble with 5-foot-10 Lakesha LaMaster-Stephens in the paint due to her strength and bulk, it will be interesting to see if they can handle Reimer.
After giving up many offensive rebounds in the first half against Fort Wayne South, North crashed the boards as a team in the second half to take away that advantage. The Bull Dogs will have to be at the top of the rebounding game again today.
If North had a Reimer-type of player in the middle, this team would be unstoppable. But this is public school basketball, so you go on the court with what you have from the neighborhood.
What North has is very special and worth seeing in person.
Jay Heater is The Republic sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 379-5632.