Bring on state

RICHMOND — With the semistate title game in its infancy Saturday, Columbus North girls basketball superstar Ali Patberg pulled up for a mid-range jumper and buried it, the ball piercing the cylinder without touching metal.

On North’s next possession at the Richmond High School gym against Lawrence North, Patberg hit another jumper, then another and another.

Patberg ran past her team’s bench, where her dad, assistant coach Ron Patberg, was kneeling and planning strategy.

“I told Dad, ‘I feel good. Give me the ball,’” the younger Patberg said.

Doesn’t North’s all-time leading scorer always say that?

“Not out loud,” she said with a laugh.

Patberg could have screamed it at the top of her lungs Saturday, because it was her amazing day.

In the Bull Dogs’ 69-60 victory against the Wildcats, the numbers were superstar quality.

Thirty-nine points. Six rebounds. Six assists.

Wait, there is more.

“We ran into a well-coached team,” Lawrence North coach Chris Griffin said. “But in large part it was Ali and her ability to control the game and control the pace. We had no answers.”

While the semistate game ended up as a 32-minute Patberg highlight film, the final moments were especially telling. The Wildcats were selling out to make sure Patberg couldn’t touch the ball, and she kept getting it anyway.

In the game’s final 1:26, Patberg paraded to the free-throw line, making nine of 10. Lawrence North guard Jordan Hankins, a star in her own right, was trying to will her team back into the game. She scored nine points in the final minutes with acrobatic shots over defenders … including an NBA-distance 3 that was truly spectacular.

It was to no avail as North, which raised its record to 27-1, would feed the ball back to Patberg, who would perform a Harlem Globetrotters’ dribbling exhibition around and through the disheartened Wildcats. They eventually would be forced to foul her as precious seconds ticked away.

The Columbus North fans, a few thousand who made the trip, bounced up and down in the stands along the side of the court as Patberg would streak past. On one end of the court, North’s student body faithful edged closer and closer to the court, getting ready to join the Bull Dogs’ celebratory dogpile.

Unfortunately for them, Richmond’s administrators, or those from the IHSAA, frowned upon such a display. Columbus North Athletics Director Jeff Hester recruited his fellow North administrators and they kept everything tidy and under control as the final seconds ticked away.

The celebration ensued as Columbus North was headed to the girls basketball Class 4A state basketball championship game against Homestead, and Patberg was engulfed by her teammates.

Did Patberg amaze her teammates, such as sophomore center Imani Guy, who finished with 10 points.

“She did,” Guy said with a big smile. “Just like always.”

North junior Paige Littrell seconded the motion. “Their plan was to double and triple Ali,” Littrell said. “And Ali had the game of her life. They couldn’t stop her.”

As fantastic as Patberg played, she needed plenty of help for North to advance to the title game against Homestead, which is scheduled for 8:15 p.m. Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Littrell buried a huge 3-pointer at the 6:10 mark of the fourth quarter as Lawrence North appeared to be making a move.

The Bull Dogs had struggled on the previous two possessions with a pair of turnovers and then North sophomore Maliah Howard Bass was called for a foul on an apparent clean block of Lawrence North’s Lauren Dickerson.

Dickerson hit one of two free throws to cut the Bull Dogs’ lead to 49-44, but when Littrell had a slight opening, she fired and hit to open a 52-44 margin.

“When it left my fingers, I knew it was going in,” Littrell said. “I think it was kind of a turning point, and it got us hyped up.”

North senior Sheyanne Street sank a similar 3-point shot in the second quarter. It was Street’s only basket of the game, but it came in response to Lawrence North taking a 22-21 lead. It sparked the Bull Dogs on a 9-2 run.

Guy and North’s other center, Elle Williams, combined to score 14 points with 13 rebounds. They held Lawrence North center Ae’Rianna Harris, who is bound for Northwestern, to six points and two-of-seven shooting from the floor.

“The biggest thing for us was sizing up with Harris, who is a big girl,” Littrell said. “I thought we did a good job.”

Columbus North coach Pat McKee said his seven-player rotation … Patberg, Williams, Howard-Bass, Guy, Street, Littrell and Debie Gedeon … had to come up big.

“It took all seven of them,” McKee said. “All seven did their job, and did it well.”

Still, though, it was a game where Patberg stated her case for being the best girls basketball player in Indiana.

“She was the maestro,” McKee said. “She scored, handled the ball, ran the defense. Her basketball IQ is superior. She did everything. Everything she does is at a level above.”