Crusaders earn school’s 1st girls basketball title

LAFAYETTE — It was only the third quarter, but it described the end of the Columbus Christian girls basketball season.

It was perfect.

Trailing 25-23 against Granger Christian in the Indiana Christian Schools Tournament championship game Saturday at the Faith Christian Fitness Center, the Crusaders unleashed their best basketball of the season.

They outscored the Knights 19-0 in the quarter and raced away to a 53-29 victory that brought the school’s first state championship in girls basketball.

“I just said to calm down,” Columbus Christian coach Ron Bridgewater said of his message to his players. “We did the same thing against Bloomington Lighthouse (in Monday’s regional title game). We got ahead early and thought we could just cruise through the rest of the game.”

Granger had other ideas and fought to a narrow lead at the half.

Bridgewater’s first word to his team at intermission was “patience.”

“I told them, ‘Listen, you are playing the two-time defending state champions here,’” Bridgewater said. “They are not going to roll over, not going to die. If you thought they were, you would be crazy.”

Chasing a state championship turned out not to be a crazy endeavor for a program in just its fourth season after a rebirth of the sport.

“This feeling is so incredible right now, I can’t even think of a word to describe it,” said Columbus Christian senior Macy Wingham, who scored 11 of her game-high 30 points in the crucial third quarter. “I am so proud of all the girls because they have worked so hard and they have come so far.”

Fellow senior Rachel Warren took time from the celebration to talk about her teammates’ efforts.

“We made it to where we are because of all the dedication we put into this,” Warren said. “When we lost early on last year (in the regional), our goal this season was to get here and become champions. Now that we are champions, it is like a dream come true. Back when I was a freshman, I never thought we could ever get this far.”

Crusaders senior Julie Decker survived the tough early years, and then enjoyed the past two winning seasons after guards Wingham and Kayleigh Reed transferred into the school and helped to turn around the team’s fortunes.

“Tori Robinson, Jena Fryback, Rachel and I all came in together four years ago and didn’t know what to expect,” Decker said. “All of us playing together for so long, it definitely helped us grow together as a unit. Then add in Macy and Kayleigh two years ago, and it only made us all much stronger. It’s just crazy how far we made it together.”

Reed had 10 points in Columbus Christian’s 45-32 victory against Horizon Christian in the semifinal game earlier in the day.

“Macy and I just wanted to push it with the team and we knew we could do great things together,” Reed said. “Having an NACA (National Association of Christian Athletes) championship behind us from last year, we knew that we could bring it to a whole new level this season. We are all super excited at how things turned out for us.”

The sky was the limit this season according to Bridgewater.

“Being able to start four seniors together along with Tori Robinson (a junior) was huge,” Bridgewater said. “Tori Robinson seems like a senior to us because she started playing on the team in eighth grade so it is her fourth year, too. When you can put that type of leadership and add in the experience of them all, good things are going to happen. I am just proud of each and every one of them.”

Still, Columbus Christian had to withstand some first half adversity.

With the Crusaders holding on to a 15-9 first quarter lead, the Knights’ Kara Kline hit back-to-back 3 pointers. A Krista Kline basket followed by a Kara Kline jumper spark a 10-0 run that put the Crusaders in a hole. They battled back to trail by two at the half.

The Crusaders responded in the third quarter by forcing the Knights (17-8) into repeated turnovers. The Crusaders were off and running.