Girls basketball: North Marion returns to quarterfinals
Note: The print version of the story published on March 7 incorrectly stated the North Marion girls basketball team had never won a state title. The Huskies won the 1983 Class AA State Championship, defeating La Salle 51-46 in the title game to complete a 19-0 season under head coach John Bridgens. That team was inducted into the North Marion Athletic Hall of Fame in 2010.
The North Marion girls basketball team completed the first step of its goal entering the 2017-18 season by returning to the state quarterfinals after defeating the Junction City Tigers 47-21 on Friday.
But they're not done yet — not by a long shot. The Huskies fully expect to finish the week with three more victories to bring the second state championship trophy in program history to North Marion High School.
"That was one goal, but it's not the goal, and that's to win it all," North Marion head coach Trevor Bodine said after the first round win at Junction City High School.
The No. 10 Huskies (18-8 6-4 Oregon West Conference) may be the lowest-ranked team left in the 4A State Playoffs, but they've been playing like one of the best teams in Oregon since February.
North Marion has gone 6-1 since Groundhog Day, surrendering an average of 33.4 points per game, including holding the No. 8 Tigers (20-6, 9-1 Sky-Em Conference) to a season-low 21 points on Friday.
"Our goal was 20 points and we gave up 21, so we gave up pretty close to the goal," said Bodine, whose team previously beat Junction City 49-29 in a non-conference game at North Marion in January. "We got out to a good start and shared the ball really well this time."
The Huskies had the stat line to prove it, with eight members notching at least two points, led by 12 from senior Ally Umbenhower and 10 coming from junior Raymee Boese off the bench.
But Bodine knows that the key to bringing a title home to North Marion is going to be on the other side of the ball, limiting opponents as much as possible by grinding games out and forcing teams to turn the ball over and take difficult shots.
"The last month, we have been pretty much hammering down on the defense," Bodine said. "The girls are in the gaps and they're in their coverages. We've rebounded a lot and that has helped. We're not giving up as many second chance opportunities."
The Huskies' reward for playing so well over the past 30 days is a date with one of the best teams in the state: They'll be opening the quarterfinal tournament on Thursday against the No. 2 Hidden Valley Mustangs (22-2, 10-0 Skyline Conference). It's a rematch between the two teams, and an opportunity for the Huskies to make up for one of their closest losses this season, after taking the Mustangs down to the wire in a 43-38 defeat at North Marion's home tournament in December.
"Hidden Valley is dangerous," Bodine said. "They've got two really good post players — three really. The coach's daughter plays post every now and then. And then they have two really good shooters. They can drive as well and jump, so they're super athletic."
The two teams met just two weeks into the regular season on Dec. 15, and Bodine feels that the Mustangs were able to capitalize on late-game mistakes by the Huskies to pull out the win. All-Conference freshman point guard Mya Hammack had just five high school games under her belt at that point in the season, and in the two and a half months since the loss, Bodine has seen a marked improvement in the way she approaches games.
"Mya's seeing the floor and making better decisions," Bodine said. "She's developed and not forcing stuff. She's kind of letting the game come to her and it's really opened it up. She's scoring less this last two or three games than she has for most of the year. But she's getting us into our offense better."
Regardless of how North Marion performs on Thursday, the Huskies will be matched up against a conference opponent in their follow-up game on Friday, a turn of fate that Bodine says benefits the other side of the bracket much more.
"I'm not happy about it, because I feel like it gives the whole other side of the bracket — they're playing teams that aren't as tough as the teams in our league. That's the way I look at it."
The Oregon West Conference was the only 4A league in the state to send three teams to the quarterfinal. No. 3 Cascade and No. 6 Stayton play against each other on Thursday, and North Marion is hoping to play the winner on Friday. The Huskies split their series against Cascade (18-6, 8-2) and were swept by Stayton (18-6, 7-3) in the regular season, with their one loss in the last month coming against the Eagles.
While most of the teams left in the tournament had effectively wrapped up their conference titles long before the state playoffs, the Huskies, Cougars and Eagles were part of a four-team dogfight in the Oregon West that went down to the final week of the regular season before Cascade wrapped up its fourth straight league title.
"I feel like having us three bunched on one side is a bit of a disadvantage to us and a major advantage on the other side of the bracket," Bodine said. "They're not going to face teams in their league like the Oregon West."
The Huskies are prepared to play — and beat — anyone they come up against this year. And if they have to take out a league rival on their way to the title game to get there, then so be it.
"It is what it is," Bodine said. "If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best."
But first North Marion must go up against a Hidden Valley team that boasts the state's best defense and has been playing all season the way North Marion has been playing over the last month.
The North Marion Huskies will tip off against the Hidden Valley Mustangs at 8:15 p.m. Thursday at Pacific University in Forest Grove.