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After a rough December, the Huskies take three straight to start 2020 on a high note

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - North Marion junior Mya Hammack and the Huskies ended their first four-game losing streak since 2015 by winning three straight in the Black Bracket of the Crusader Classic New Years Invitational over the weekend.PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - North Marion sophomore Mallory Patzer works in the trenches against the Gervais Cougars in the tournament semifinals on Friday. The Huskies handed Gervais their first loss of the season, 31-28.It's a new year for the North Marion girls basketball team.

After the Huskies limped toward the end of 2019 by losing four straight games and six of their first eight, the team righted the ship and went 3-for-3 at the annual Crusader Classic New Year's Invitational to win the Black Bracket at Salem Academy High School on Saturday, Jan. 4.

"It's a good confidence booster after a really bad start to the year," head coach Trevor Bodine said. "I think we're heading in the right direction."

The Huskies were in an unusual position heading into 2020. After dropping the final game of their home tournament before Christmas, North Marion lost three more on the team's trip to Arizona on Dec. 27-30. It was the first time since Bodine took over the program in 2016 that the Huskies had lost three straight contests, let alone four, putting the team in a precarious position looking for answers as the league schedule loomed toward the end of the month.

"The Arizona trip was disappointing," Bodine admitted. "I didn't feel the focus was there for everybody. We went 1-2 last year, but this one felt a little bit different."

Was this the telltale sign of a rebuilding year at North Marion? In a word, no. It turns out that a trip to the state capitol may have been just the panacea that the Huskies needed to put December behind them.

The girls basketball team looked every bit of its old form under Bodine in the team's three wins over the weekend. The Huskies bookended the tournament with a pair of dominating wins — 60-33 over Cascade Christian to open things on Thursday and 58-23 against Horizon Christian in the bracket championship on Saturday.

In between, North Marion handed the 2A No. 2 Gervais Cougars their only loss of the season in a 31-28 victory in which the Huskies rallied to take their first lead of the game in the final minutes and pull away for the win.

The wins had one thing in common: defense.

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - North Marion senior Katie Ensign led the Huskies in scoring in their final two games of the Salem Academy tournament, putting up 10 against Gervais on Friday and going for 17 in the Black Bracket title game against Horizon Christian on Saturday.  "We somehow managed to keep (Gervais) below the 70 (points) they had been averaging against other teams," Bodine said. "That's the only reason we won that game. We kind of gutted it out."

It was not a pretty game for those who came looking for an offensive showcase. Gervais' 10-point second quarter was the only time either team was able to hit double-digit scoring in a period, as both teams scrambled to get points on the board.

But in the end, it was North Marion's defensive efforts that delivered the win, holding one of the highest-scoring teams in the state under 50 points for the first time this season, including just three points in the fourth quarter.

It was both an affirmation of the Huskies' ability to grind out a victory when the offensive isn't hitting and a crunch-time victory the team sorely needed. Half of the team's six losses this season have come by one-possession margins.

Senior Katie Ensign led the Huskies against Gervais with 10 points, including a pair of 3s. Junior Mya Hammack had eight, while sophomores Jaydan Sahlin and Megan Netter each scored five.

It's the latter two, along with fellow starter Mallory Patzer, that Bodine would like to see more aggressive on offense for North Marion to win more consistently moving forward.

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Head coach Trevor Bodine notes that sophomore Jaydan Sahlin has the physical skills to be a strong offensive player, provided she can be more aggressive in looking for her shot.  In the championship game against Horizon Christian, the Huskies showed the kind of balanced offense that Bodine is looking for. Netter had 14 — all in the first half — while Sahlin and Patzer had seven each. Ensign led the team again with 17.

"Jaydan only took four shots against Gervais, and I just need her to shoot more. I need her to get to the rim, because she can," Bodine said. "She plays great defense and she rebounds well, but if she's not engaged offensively, we're going to struggle."

That opportunity to shine could likely come this week with games against perennial playoff teams in Banks and Valley Catholic. Bodine notes that he's seen the girls shoot well on offense in practice, but they need to be more aggressive in games and trust their own athleticism and skill while also practicing patience.

"Banks is probably going to throw something to shut down Mya or Katie and we have to be ready for that," Bodine said. "I know they can shoot way better, it's just a matter of shot selection and not taking the first shot on offense. We need better ball movement. Pass up a good shot for a great shot, which is what every coach wants.

North Marion (5-6) was scheduled to travel to Banks (6-6) on Tuesday, Jan. 7 for their only game of the week. The Huskies return home to face Valley Catholic (6-4) on Tuesday, Jan. 14.

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