Huskies take fourth at state tourney
Heading into last weekend's 4A Boys Basketball State Championship tournament, the North Marion Huskies wanted to bring home a trophy, but more importantly the team wanted to make the most of the last few available games this season.
For the team's five seniors — Jared Hauser, Grant Henry, Griffin Henry, Sam Garcia and Nic Iliyn — this was the last time any of them would play in a high school basketball jersey.
"I think we knew for us seniors, it was one last time playing together," Grant Henry said. "We've been playing together all our lives and we knew this was one last chance and we just wanted to take advantage of it."
After opening the quarterfinal tournament with a 75-50 loss to the state runner-up Seaside Seagulls on Thursday, the Huskies bounced back with a 57-55 win over Henley the next morning and followed with a 77-65 win over Marist on Saturday to finish the season with a fourth-place trophy and send off the program's senior class with an exciting finish.
"It was our senior's last game and we didn't want it to be a loss," Jimenez said after the win over the Spartans on Saturday. We just came out there. We wanted them to have the game and play as hard as we could."
The final victory was everything the Huskies could hope for in a farewell performance. After trading leads throughout the first 10 minutes of the game, North Marion gradually pulled away in the second half before concluding the game with an offensive showcase in the fourth quarter in which both teams combined to score 61 points.
"Griffin, Grant, Nic — they all played really good," said Jimenez, who finished his junior season with a big night, posting 28 points on 10-of-19 shooting to go along with 14 points, five assists and a blocked shot. "I was just hitting open shots, and luckily they fell down."
It was the continuation of an overall strong weekend for Jimenez, who was named to the All-Tournament Second Team after averaging a tournament-best 21.7 points per game in addition to nine rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot over the three-game series.
"I was just feeling comfortable," Jimenez said. "I wasn't really going for high points, I was just playing my game and trying to get my senior guys involved."
The Huskies came into the weekend as the seventh-ranked team looking for a Cinderella run to the championship game, similar to the 2015 team that finished runner-up as an 11-seed. Instead, North Marion was stuffed by the defending champion Seagulls on the first day. Jimenez led the Huskies with 14 points, followed by 11 from Jared Hauser, but had little answer for the Seagulls' Ryan Hague, who shot 14-of-18 from the field to lead Seaside with 29 points and 10 rebounds as the team shot 57 percent from the field.
"Right when we walked out of the locker room, we flushed it and put it behind us," Jimenez said. "We went to bed at the hotel, got up early and just forgot about that game, focusing on the next one knowing that we could still walk out of here with a trophy."
Forced to adjust their goals on the fly, the Huskies changed their course. It no longer was about winning a title, but just winning — if only to prolong the season by one more game.
"At that point, us seniors we knew that if we win we play another game, and if we lose, we're done," Grant Henry said. "I think we just took advantage of it really well."
Coming out the next morning, the Huskies had a little extra motivation against the No. 6 Henley Hornets, a team that had knocked North Marion out of the playoffs in each of the past two years.
"We wanted to give them a little revenge," Grant Henry said.
The Huskies rallied from a 31-26 halftime deficit, outscoring the Hornets 19-7 in the third quarter to take a 45-38 lead heading into the final eight minutes. Henley had one final push, tying the game at 53-53 with 1:36 remaining. But North Marion took the lead for good with 26 seconds left when a Henley turnover led to a technical foul on the Hornets.
Grant Henry made 1-of-2 shots to put North Marion up by a point, and the Hornets had to foul to get the ball back. Brady Hansen added a pair of free throws to give his team a three-point lead and the Huskies went on to outlast Henley, earning one last game while making sure the Hornets went home empty-handed.
Jimenez led the team with 23 points and four steals, while Grant Henry added 13, including four 3-pointers.
That led into Saturday's season finale, the swan song for the senior class. In addition to Jimenez's big numbers, Hauser added 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting, including three 3-pointers to go along with four assists, while Johnny Page chipped in 10, Brady Hansen had nine and Grant and Griffin Henry had seven and six, respectively.
"If we get fourth out of 33 teams, it's still an accomplishment, so we wanted to come out of here with a trophy and didn't put our heads down," Jimenez.