Girls basketball: North Marion makes quarterfinal push
It's been an atypical season for the North Marion girls basketball team.
Coming into the year, the Huskies had aspirations of challenging three-time league champion Cascade for the top seed in the Oregon West Conference. But after a mid-season swoon in which the team lost three of four games to take them out of contention, North Marion was forced to adjust in the face adversity.
"We've had a lot of stuff happen off the court with tragedy at the school, kids whose parents have medical issues," head coach Trevor Bodine said. "We've had to endure some things that most teams haven't had to endure this year aside from basketball."
In the face of adversity, the Huskies (18-8, 6-4 Oregon West Conference) became resilient and rallied to play some of their best basketball this season, culminating in back-to-back wins last week that have the team on the cusp of returning to the state quarterfinals for the second consecutive season.
"They've gone through a lot this year, and I'm certainly proud of them for that, because a lot of teams couldn't handle that kind of stuff," Bodine said. "The fact that they are showing there is still something to play for, and we're starting to peak right now and play our best basketball, that's a good sign."
North Marion's 60-23 win over the South Umpqua Lancers (10-14, 4-6 Far West League) on Saturday advanced the team to the first round of the state playoffs, where it will face No. 8 Junction City this week. But the postseason win pales in comparison to the team's regular season finale against No. 3 Cascade (17-6, 8-2 OWC) on Feb. 20, beating the Cougars 54-52 on senior night.
The victory was momentous on multiple levels.
North Marion had dropped eight consecutive games to Cascade since joining the Oregon West Conference in 2015, and the Huskies are set to move back to the Tri-Valley Conference next season while the Cougars are moving up to the 5A Classification.
With no guarantee the two teams will meet up in this year's state playoffs, it was the last guaranteed chance for North Marion to prove it could hang with the perennial 4A power.
The game also had important postseason ramifications. A loss would have put the Huskies on a trajectory to opening the play-in round in La Grande. Instead, the team was able to win comfortably at home over South Umpqua, giving the Huskies a first round match against a Junction City (20-4, 9-1 Sky-Em League) team they beat by 20 points earlier in the season.
"I felt that Cascade game felt bigger than the Henley game last year to get us to the final eight," Bodine said. "I know realistically that's not possible, but it felt bigger emotionally."
Although the Cougars had little to play for after wrapping up their fourth straight league title the week before, that didn't stop Cascade from playing its starters for the entirety of the game, giving the North Marion gymnasium the charged atmosphere of a playoff contest.
The two teams didn't disappoint. After the Cougars took an opening 4-0 lead, the Huskies responded with a 16-2 run that included four consecutive 3-pointers from seniors Ally Umbenhower, Hannah Kinniburgh and Lindy Wing.
North Marion expanded its lead to 20-9 by the end of the quarter and kept Cascade at a double-digit deficit for the remainder of the half, but the Cougars came storming back in the third quarter to cut the Huskies' lead to 37-35 heading into the fourth.
The two teams traded shots throughout the final eight minutes, but North Marion continued to stay just ahead until Cascade senior Halle Wright scored five straight points in the final two minutes to tie the game at 52-52 with 30 seconds left.
And while the Huskies opened the game celebrating the career contributions of seniors Umbenhower, Kinniburgh, Wing, Emily Lucas and Juana Aguilera, it fell on the shoulders of sophomore Katie Ensign to deliver the victory in the tense final seconds.
After Umbenhower attempted a potential game-winning shot with seven seconds left that missed the mark, Ensign grabbed the rebound in traffic and was fouled on her follow-up attempt. Despite back-to-back timeouts from the Cascade bench, the second-year wing calmly made both shots to put the Huskies back on top and delivered the win.
Ensign finished the game with 10 points, while Umbenhower led the Huskies with 17, followed by 14 from Kinniburgh. Wright led the Cougars with 28 points.
With that win in the bag, North Marion came out Saturday against the Lancers with the same intensity, building a 9-0 lead behind seven consecutive points from Umbenhower, who scored 11 of her game-high 24 points in the first quarter.
"She got off to a good start," Bodine said. "We tried to speed them up a little bit. I tried to get Mya (Hammack) to push the tempo, (because) they didn't have the greatest defensive transition. They all liked to run down the middle of the floor which allowed us to spread the lanes and get some open drives to the hoop."
Umbenhower was the lone player to score in double digits, and was followed by teammates Lucas, Raymee Boese and Mar Verastegui, who each had eight.
Now that the Huskies are back in the first round, they'll need to get past a Junction City team that has won 11 of its past 12 contests since losing 49-29 to North Marion at the beginning of the year.
We're confident in what we do. We know they've gotten better since the last time we played them, but so have we," Bodine said. "We're going into this game with the mental attitude that we need to pretend that they're Cascade. We want to come out with that same energy and that same goal in mind. Control what we can control and really focus on our defense. Our offense will come, but the defense is what's going to win the game."
The game will tip off at Junction City High School at 7 p.m. Friday. The winner will advance to the state quarterfinal tournament held at Pacific University and Forest Grove High School March 8-10.