The Huskies shake off the rust after an unexpected two-week hiatus, defend top spot

SUBMITTED PHOTO: JO WHEAT - North Marion's Trevor Ensign struck out five batters in six scoreless inning against Philomath in second game of the series. Coming into last week's series against the Philomath Warriors, North Marion baseball coach Randy Brack was concerned how his team would compete. After opening the season with a blistering start, winning 12 of their first 14 games over the first three weeks of the season, the Huskies were hit with an unexpected hole in their schedule.

The Yamhill-Carlton varsity team decided to withdraw from play just before the start of the league schedule, leaving every other team in the Oregon West Conference scrambling to make up for the lost playing time.

With most of the high schools teams in the state booked, North Marion was unable to find opponents on such short notice, leaving a two-week gap between their April 4 game against Newport and their April 18 game against Philomath.

"As coaches, we're kind of worried," Brack said. "You had some rhythm going. You have some momentum going. Now you shut it down for two weeks, and you have to come back and play Philomath, and you're kind of worried how you're going to play."

But the Huskies showed very little signs getting back into the schedule last week, winning two of three games against the Warriors to up their record to 4-2 in the conference and maintain their No. 1 ranking in the OSAA polls.

North Marion took the first two games in the series, winning 6-1 at Philomath to open the week before returning home to win 3-0 on Thursday. The common denominator in both games — rock solid pitching in front of a stable defense — is what has kept the Huskies at the top of the 4A rankings for most of the season.

"You've got to give the pitcher's credit, because they've been able to knuckle down and get out of the inning," Brack said. "Our pitching depth has really helped us. We can go five to six deep in the pitching."

The series opener saw junior Griffin Henry pitch a complete game, striking out 10 batters while giving up just four hits and no earned runs in seven innings.

The next day, senior Trevor Ensign gave up two hits and struck out five in six scoreless innings before closer Milo Bilyeu came in to throw a perfect seventh inning to preserve the win.

Even in the 4-3 loss to finish the week at Philomath, the Huskies continued to throw the ball at a high level. Junior Grant Henry struck out six and gave up two earned runs off four hits in four innings. But when the Warriors tacked on a run against reliever Brady Hansen in the fifth to go up 4-3, North Marion was unable to answer in the final two frames.

That lack of offensive firepower is something Brack is hoping the Huskies can rectify over the final games of the regular season. While North Marion has given up just 39 runs this season — the second-best mark in the state — the Huskies are 17th in offense, averaging just under seven runs a game.

"Offensively, we are not where we want to be," Brack said. "We really haven't hit that well this year. We've had little spurts where we put it together, but we haven't got really hot yet. Hopefully we can put it together."

Despite being the No. 1 team in the state, North Marion is third in the Oregon West Conference behind Philomath (9-6, 6-3 OWC) and Cascade (9-6, 5-1).

The Huskies will need to find that offensive rhythm soon. North Marion was scheduled to have a bye this week, but was able to pick up a non-conference game against 5A Central on Thursday. From there, the Huskies close out the season against Stayton and Cascade in the final two weeks of the season.

They Huskies will have an opportunity to gain ground on the league title chase against last place Stayton (3-12, 0-6), setting up the final week in the regular season against Cascade that could decide the top seed in the Oregon West.

"If we do what we need to do and play the game the way we're capable of playing and not get hung up, we should be able to take care of business," Brack said.

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