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Huskies return to state quarterfinals for first time since 2015 championship appearance

COURTESY: JO WHEAT - The North Marion boys basketball team celebrates its victory over Valley Catholic on Saturday, returning to the state quarterfinals for the first time since 2015.As the 2018-19 season winds down, the No. 7 North Marion boys basketball team continues to check items off its list goals pre-season goals.

The Huskies claimed a 56-48 home victory over the Valley Catholic Valiants on Friday for the program's first playoff win in four years and a return to the 4A state quarterfinal tournament for the first time since North Marion's run to the championship game in 2015.

"I am so incredibly happy for them to get to experience the final eight and what that's like," North Marion head coach Tully Wagner said of his team. "The last time we were there, it was awesome, but there are so many things that go into it, and that's community support.

"We had that the other night — the gym was packed," he continued. "I know the fans are going to pack it for the final eight, and that's just a unique experience for the guys."

North Marion's trip to the quarterfinals came against a battle-tested Valley Catholic team that has twice finished as runners up in the state championship game over the previous two seasons. Coming into Friday's game, the Valiants (18-10, 4-4 Cowapa League) had the benefit of playing more recently in the play-in round, while the Huskies looked every bit like a team looking to find its bearings after a 10-day layoff.

Valley Catholic jumped out to a 15-7 lead in the first quarter before North Marion rallied behind Tri-Valley Conference Player of the Year Sergio Jimenez, who scored 16 of his team-high 21 points in the first half for the Huskies.

"We had some nerves and were a little slow on the get-go, especially offensively," Wagner said. "(In the) second half, everybody took their turn. It was a true team effort. It was a good win."

Griffin Henry's first-half surge was followed by a strong second-half performance from Grant Henry. And in the third quarter, senior guard Brady Hansen scored seven of his nine second-half points, including a big buzzer beater at the end of the period.

On the defensive end, posts Nic Iliyn and Johnny Page successfully defended the Valiants' 6-foor-7 senior Isaac Fleming, playing a dual-role in the paint that the pair has excelled at all season, Wagner said.

"Between Johnny and Nic, they both do nice things in the interior," Wagner said. "Nic is one of the best post defenders in the state, because he can cover so much ground.

COURTESY: JO WHEAT - The North Marion boys basketball team celebrate with fans who stormed the court after the Huskies clinched their first round victory over Valley Catholic on Friday."And Johnny just eats up offensive rebounds in the interior and has really good vision."

With the victory, the Huskies earned a quarterfinal rematch against another Cowapa team — the two-time defending state champion Seaside Seagulls (22-3, 7-1). The two programs clashed at North Marion High School in January, where the Seagulls rallied from a double-digit deficit to escape with a 58-57 victory.

"We're starting out with a team a lot of people think are the best team in the state," Wagner said. "There's a reason they've won two consecutive state championships."

The Huskies (16-9, 9-1 Tri-Valley Conference) have a lot of experience this year with the teams still alive in the post season, having played against five of the other seven quarterfinalists.

"No matter who we play in the final eight, we'll be happy with it," Wagner said. And after claiming both a league title and a quarterfinal berth, the Huskies are simply excited about keeping the momentum going as long as possible.

"We're looking at the end of our goals list and hopefully we can keep checking them off," Wagner said. "I'm really happy for our guys to be able to experience that."

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Next up

North Marion plays Seaside at 8:15 p.m. at Pacific University on Thursday.

To follow the 2019 4A Boys Basketball State Quarterfinals, go to:osaa.org/activities/bbx/brackets

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