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Sophomore Hailey Welch scores twice in second half, Huskies prepare for first round road playoff test

PHIL HAWKINS - North Marion sophomore Hailey Welch led the Huskies with two goals in the second half of the team's 4-0 play-in victory over Phoenix on Saturday.
It may not have been the road that was expected at the beginning of the season, but the North Marion girls soccer team is back in the playoffs after a 4-0 win over the Phoenix Pirates in the 4A state play-in round on Saturday at North Marion High School.

The Huskies (8-5-2, 5-4-1) return to the state playoffs a year after qualifying for state as the top-seeded team in the tournament, only to be ousted by Hidden Valley in the quarterfinal round.

Coming into this season with high expectations, the Huskies struggled through injuries in the middle of the season, finishing the regular season in third place in the Tri-Valley Conference, where they were forced to play an elimination game against the visiting Pirates (4-8-2, 3-6-1 Skyline Conference) in order to get back to the state tournament.

But North Marion proved it was more than up for the task, moving the ball at will against an overmatched Phoenix team and dominating the time of possession.

"I think we knew that we had to pass a lot during this game and just continue passing and moving around because they are a difficult team," said sophomore Hailey Welch, who led the team with a pair of second half goals.

Senior forward Mar Verastegui got the ball rolling with a goal in the first half, and sophomore Dani Christenson made it 2-0 going into the half.

North Marion continued to control the game in the second half, leading to Welch's first goal, a lofting shot from 30 yards out over the Phoenix defense and past the Pirate keeper's fingertips to make it a 3-0 game. Christenson assisted on the shot.

Welch struck again in the closing minutes of the game on a free kick from just outside the box, where she was once again able to put enough air under the ball to put it in a spot the keeper was unable to reach.

"We want to keep pushing forward to get as many goals, but also play defense as well," Welch said. "Just keep trying to score as many as you can."

The Huskies have a difficult task ahead in the first round, when they travel to La Grande on Wednesday to take on the No. 2 Tigers (12-0, 6-0 Greater Oregon), who have outscored opponents by a 57-2 margin this season.

But unlike last year, where North Marion entered the playoffs as heavy favorites, this year the Huskies are relishing the chance to be tournament spoilers and make up for the early exit in 2017.

"I think we just need to focus more," Welch said. "Moving forward I think we need to continue passing and playing as a team."

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