The Columbus North boys basketball team went into Saturday night’s sectional final looking to break a 16-year title drought.
More importantly, the Bull Dogs spent the past 362 days preparing to avenge a loss to Bloomington South in last year’s sectional final. Then, North spent one memorable Saturday night exorcising those demons.
The Class 4A No. 3 Bull Dogs held off a pesky Bloomington South squad to claim a 65-56 victory and their first sectional title since 1997. North will play Franklin Central at 10 a.m. Saturday in the semifinals of the Seymour Regional.
“We did it for this community,” sophomore forward Josh Speidel said. “They haven’t had one of these in that long. I think it’s a testament to our seniors. From the downfall of this program, they brought it up. It’s all the seniors and coaches.”
The Bull Dogs’ eight seniors led an effort to bring a championship back to Columbus after being a heavy favorite in 2012, only to fall to the Panthers in the sectional final.
“During the offseason, that’s all we thought about all summer,” senior guard Sawyer Glick said. “Summer ball, during conditioning, those extra sprints — it was all for the loss in the sectional. We had a chance to beat the team that beat us, and it feels really, really good.”
“It was heartbreaking,” senior center Tori Jackson said. “This year, it feels great to come out and get revenge on a tough team.”
Added junior point guard Evan Henry: “We did not want to let what happened last year happen again, and we made sure of that tonight.”
Although North (23-1) never trailed, it never put the Panthers (12-11) away until hitting three free throws in the final 32 seconds. The Bull Dogs led by as many as seven in each of the first two quarters and enjoyed a 39-29 lead with 6 minutes left in the third quarter, but Bloomington South rallied to within 51-50 with 3:11 left in the game.
Henry then hit two free throws, and after North went to a spread offense, Jackson hit two more. The Panthers came no closer than five the rest of the way.
“I think that we were able to have a lot more composure early, middle and late,” North coach Jason Speer said. “We did what it took to win the basketball game.”
“I thought we played with a lot of heart,” Henry said. “We knew what was at stake. We knew B-South wouldn’t give it up easily. We came in here and we took what was ours.”
The Bull Dogs hit six of their first eight and seven of their first 10 3-pointers in the first half. They finished 9 of 22 from beyond the arc.
“Our offense cooled down, but defensively, we know that’s what’s going to win us a championship, and it paid off in the end,” Glick said.
“We were locked in early offensively, and then we got better and better it seemed like defensively,” Speer said. “Then at the end, free throws were huge. In tournament basketball, you have to make those free throws, and we did.”
Junior forward Elliot Welmer scored 15 points to lead all five North starters in double figures. Henry and Speidel each scored 14, while Glick finished with 12 and Jackson added 10 points and eight rebounds.
“We just played confident and knowing that our shots are going to go in,” Welmer said.
Keaton Hendricks scored 18 points to lead Bloomington South, which had won four consecutive sectionals.
“They’ve won it a lot,” Speidel said. “They’re the ones we always shoot for. We were hoping we got to play them in the championship because we wanted revenge from last year, and they’re a great team. We beat a really good B-South team.”
“We’ve worked so hard for this for as long as I can remember, and for it finally to pay off, it’s hard to put it in words,” Glick said.
North will take a 19-game winning streak into the regional against a Franklin Central team it beat early in the season. Jeffersonville and Evansville Harrison will play in the second semifinal, and the championship will be at 8 p.m. Saturday.
“There’s no better feeling in the world right now, knowing how much we’ve went through,” Henry said. “This moment just feels so good. All the offseason work, all our heart and effort put into one season — we knew this could be a special season.”
“A lot of these guys weren’t even alive the last time that Columbus North won a sectional championship,” Speer said. “It really is a great basketball community. These guys represent the tradition of Columbus North very well, and we’re going to try to keep it going.”
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