North Marion falls 58-54 to Gladstone in seeding game
After the first two games this season between the North Marion and Gladstone boys basketball teams came down to final possession in regulation, no one expected anything different in Tuesday's seeding game at Molalla High School — even with Gladiators leading by 14 points with four minutes left in the contest.
But No. 9 Gladstone was able to withstand a late push by the Huskies to pull out a 58-54 victory, beating No. 3North Marion for the second time in a five-day span to claim the top seed coming out of the Tri-Valley Conference and a guaranteed home game in next weekend's first round of the state playoffs.
"We obviously face some adversity now, and we haven't really faced a lot of adversity all season," North Marion head coach Tully Wagner said. "But one thing that I've known about these guys for a couple years now is they're always at their best when their backs are against the wall and they have to come back and show something."
The Huskies showed as much in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter. Facing a 51-37 deficit with just under four minutes left to play, the North Marion offense that had been thus far held in check by the Gladiators came alive behind a furious rally from seniors Johnny Page and Sergio Jimenez.
The pair combined for 11 straight points for the Huskies over the next three minutes, bringing the Huskies to within 55-48 with 39 seconds left to play.
"Testament to North Marion, they execute," Gladstone head coach Cody Aker said. "Sergio is one heck of a player. He would get timely bucket after timely bucket. We'd try to stop him, and he'd dump it down to (Page) for a layup. Great job on their part."
The North Marion rally continued, pressuring Gladstone's ball carriers in the final 30 seconds and inducing a steal at half court by sophomore Payton Meyers, who tossed it to junior teammate Tanner Saucedo for a 3-pointer near the North Marion student section to make it 55-51 with 20 seconds left.
The Huskies put Gladstone's Seth Dewall on the line on the next possession, and the senior guard made one of two free throws to make it a five-point game. North Marion quickly inbounded the ball and moved it up court to find Meyers for a contested corner 3 with 11 seconds left to pull within 56-54.
The Gladiators were able to play keep away from North Marion on their next possession until the Huskies put Dewall back on the line with 2.8 seconds left. Dewall sank both shots, and with no timeouts remaining, the Huskies were left to chuck a desperation 3-pointer from beyond half court as the buzzer expired.
"North Marion has got streaky shooters and we kind of chucked a little bit at the end, but we held onto it and we still won," Gladstone junior Jude Ashpole said. "Every time we play them it's going to be hard. They gave their heart and we gave ours."
"These guys think we're going to get a 3, then get a steal, then they're going to miss some free throws and we're going to come hit a 3 and a layup," Wagner said. "They don't give up and that's what you want from a team. Unfortunately, we dug ourselves too big a hole tonight to let that save us."
Jimenez led the Huskies with 24 points, followed by 17 from Page. No other North Marion player scored more than four points. In contrast, Gladstone had a much more balanced offense. Senior Jeremy De Voe led the team with 15 points, followed by 10 each from Ashpole and Thomas Tacha. Brandon Wanlass and Ethan Bulisco each had eight as well.
Prior to North Marion's rally, the Gladiators were able to build several cushions throughout the game. Gladstone came out of the gates shooting the lights out, with five different players contributing to a 12-0 lead to open the game.
Jimenez eventually put North Marion on the board with a pair of free throws with 3:14 left in the quarter and proceeded to score the first eight points for the Huskies, who trailed 19-10 after eight minutes.
The Huskies were able to pull within 27-20 at the half, but Gladstone again jumped out to a big run to open the third, expanding their lead to 34-20 on a 3-pointer from Wanlass followed by buckets from Ashpole and Bulisco.
"If we give up a 12-0 run to start the game and a 7-0 run to start the third quarter, that's not going to beat good teams," Wagner said. "We've kind of gotten away with that in a couple league games where we started slow and then were a better team and could make it up. But this is learning for us, we can adjust and be better in the playoffs."
"Pregame we talked about being steady and having composure, and it's a long game," Aker said. "With that there's going to be runs. Our runs and their runs. We try to minimize theirs and get ours as much as possible."
Tuesday's game came five days after the Gladiators beat the Huskies in overtime at Gladstone High School on Friday, Feb. 21. That contest was marred by friction between teams at the end of the game followed by an altercation between dozens of fans in the parking lot.
Officials from North Marion High School addressed the altercation on social media, and additional security was on hand for Tuesday's contest, but no further incidents took place and coaches were pleased with the atmosphere at Molalla and how their teams focused on the game.
"I was really proud with how our guys did that today," Wagner said. "Cody's a friend of mine – we know our teams don't have an issue with each other. We just had to remind everybody on both sides to focus on the game and not what's going on in the stands. I thought both teams did a good job of playing a really competitive game without anything extra."
As co-league champions, both North Marion (19-5) and Gladstone (19-5) await the results of the play-in round to determine which teams they will play against in the first round of the state playoffs.
By winning the top seed in the Tri-Valley Conference, the Gladiators are guaranteed to host a state playoff game and will be slotted in as a 6-, 7- or 8-seed. As one of the two highest-ranked teams to not win their league's top seed, the Huskies will also host a home playoff game and have already been slated into the 3-seed. Both teams will play on Saturday, March 7.
"We have until next Saturday until we play a game," Wagner said. "Get some more practice in this week and get some more targeted practice in next week and I'm fully confident that these guys are going to be ready to play in the first round of the playoffs."
NORTH MARION 10 10 12 22 — 54
GLADSTONE 19 8 17 14 — 58
North Marion — Jimenez 24, J. Page 17, Saucedo 4, Meyers 4, H. Wierstra 3, Hansen 1, Wilson 1
Gladstone — De Voe 15, Ashpole 10, Tacha 10, Wanlass 8, Bulisco 8, Dewall 3, Carey 2 Harman 2
North Marion — Meyers 1, Saucedo 1, H. Wierstra 1
Gladstone — Tacha 2, Wanlass 2, Ashpole 2
North Marion — 7/16
Gladstone — 6/13
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