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Senior shines in home finale

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Lone senior Hanna Ballard closed out her career on Columbus North’s home floor Saturday, drawing applause before the Bull Dogs’ contest with Bloomington North, and garnering a standing ovation from the local fans after the game.

In between the accolades, Ballard fueled her teammates with inspired play that included intense defense and scoring a career high-tying 16 points, as the Class 4A No. 1 Dogs rolled past the Cougars 59-31.

The victory clinched the Conference Indiana title for coach Pat McKee’s crew with a 7-0 mark and continued its unbeaten season stretch to 22-0. Columbus North has won 36 consecutive regular-season contests and has won 41 of 42 overall. The last time the state runners-up suffered a regular-season setback was Dec. 13, 2011, against Seymour.

Against the Cougars (7-12, 0-7), the hosts got a slow start offensively until Ballard injected some energy. Her two free throws at the 5:01 mark finally put the Bull Dogs on the scoreboard, and her 3-pointer moments later gave them the lead they would never relinquish. The 5-foot-8 leader pumped in two more bombs later in the opening frame that pushed the hosts in front 16-6, and her coast-to-coast driving layup midway through the second quarter made things 32-13.

“I always try to come out and play hard like that,” said Ballard, who also grabbed five rebounds and snatched a pair of steals. “This game just happened to be one where I was able to score more.”

She joined two other teammates with double-figure scoring. Ali Patberg paced the team with 18 points, while Tayler Goodall added 10. Ballard’s trio of treys also set the tone for the rest of the squad, which finished with eight for contest and has now knocked down a single-season record 112.

Patberg had just six points in the first half, as she concentrated on getting the ball to her hot-shooting teammates.

“I saw that Hanna was hot, and I kept trying to get the ball to her,” said Patberg, who also led the team with seven rebounds. “It’s my job as the point guard to find her, and she knocked down some big shots.”

Any thoughts Bloomington North might have had of a second-half rally were snuffed out early in the third quarter after Patberg drained a trey and was followed by Emmy Schabel with a pair of triples during a period of just 90 seconds to push the advantage to 46-19.

The hosts maintained their 27-point margin heading into the final period before clearing the bench and showcasing their team depth.

“It was nice to win my last home game,” Ballard said. “It’s an honor playing with this team.”

Ballard added that she’ll continue to be a motivator and do whatever it takes as the Dogs close out their regular season Thursday at Jennings County before IHSAA tournament play begins Feb. 5.

“Our goal is to get back to the state finals,” Ballard said. “We are a close team, and everyone works hard, so hopefully all of that hard work will pay off.”

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