ON a night when the offense wasn’t clicking on all cylinders, the Columbus North girls were fortunate their defense was creating a little havoc.
The top-ranked Bull Dogs survived an off night on the offensive end by forcing 29 Bloomington North turnovers. That was enough to send Columbus North to its 24th consecutive win, a 60-46 victory in the semifinals of the Columbus East Sectional.
“It was definitely a bright spot for us,” North assistant coach Ron Patberg said. “The kids played hard. We forced a lot of turnovers by playing with energy. Unfortunately, I don’t think we converted all those turnovers into points. Our offense wasn’t as good and crisp as we’d like, and a lot of it had to do with the layoff. Really for the month of January, we’ve been playing twice a week, and we’re at a little bit more than a week and I think it showed in our offense.”
The Bull Dogs (24-0) realize they’ll have to play better in tonight’s sectional final when they play Bloomington South (15-7), a 50-13 winner against Shelbyville in Friday’s first semifinal.
“That was the message to the kids,” Ron Patberg said. “The defense was really strong. If we play defense like we did tonight, I think that will give us an opportunity to win, but our offense definitely has to be better. We have to relax and enjoy it and have fun and know that we’re playing for a sectional championship.”
Columbus North was clinging to an 11-10 lead early in the second quarter when Kelsey Cunningham hit a 3-pointer to spark a 9-1 run to push the lead to 20-11. The lead was still nine with six minutes left in the third quarter when a Taylor Goodall 3-pointer sparked an 11-2 spurt to make it 43-25.
The Bull Dogs took their biggest lead at 56-33 on a 3-pointer from Cunningham with 4:28 left in the game.
The Cougars (9-13) played a triangle-and-two on Columbus North stars Ali Patberg and Tayler Goodall for much of the game. Goodall finished with 18 points, while Cunningham added 14 and Ali Patberg had 12 for the Bull Dogs, who committed 18 turnovers.
“You have to give credit to Bloomington North,” Ron Patberg said. “They slowed us down a little bit and made us think. It’s something we haven’t seen for awhile.
“I think some of the players were tight,” he said. “We still are a very inexperienced team. Emmy Schabel hasn’t played much in the tournament. She didn’t get a lot of minutes last year. Macy Wingham, Hannah Poindexter — a lot of those girls last year didn’t get a lot of minutes during the run, so they were a little bit nervous.”
Tennessee-Martin recruit Shai Warfield-Cross led Bloomington North with 20 points and 10 rebounds. The Cougars had fallen at Columbus North 59-31 two weeks ago.
“I think that our defense didn’t surprise them as much as it did the first time, but I think we did a better job with our defense,” Bloomington North coach Alana Harrington said. “I think our intensity was there all along. It’s just, the more skilled team won.
“I like how hard we worked,” she said. “I liked our intensity. I did not like our turnovers. I think that obviously has to do with some pressure from Columbus North and handling their pressure. They’re a good team. There’s a reason why they’re 24-0 and No. 1 in the state.”