By Jeremy McDonald
AURORA, Ore.– It was Senior Night at North Marion High School Tuesday night, and with playoff implications on the line for both teams, it was expecting to be another great game like their first meeting in Turner on January 31.
In the starting lineup, a slight change, were seniors Noah Vachter and Luis Nunez. Head Coach Tully Wagner talked about how awesome it was to give the two seniors an opportunity to play in front of the home crowd one last time.
“It’s incredible to start seniors on Senior Night, they worked their butts off all season and especially those two Noah and Louie,” said Wagner. “They don’t see the floor much, they knew that was their role coming into the season and they accepted it and they don’t work any less hard than anyone else on the team. I was really happy to get them an opportunity to start and really happy that they were able to go in and our team didn’t miss a beat.
“Louie hit a three, Noah had one go-in and out. I have a lot of respect for anybody that goes through the program and put in the work everyday, especially when they aren’t seeing a lot of playing time. So it was a cool moment for them, I’m happy it was something that they got to experience.”
Vachter and Nunez walked off the court to cheers a few minutes into the game as their teammates battled and built a two-possession lead, even a three-possession lead as Trevor Ensign put the Huskies up 46-38 about a little before midway through the third quarter. A win would all but seal North Marion’s spot into the postseason.
But Cascade, who sat at 17th in the rankings and are sitting quiet comfortble in terms of already sealing a playoff spot, were looking to push them up a little bit in the rankings with one last win entering the postseason.
And they made a run for the lead and went on a 10-1 run to regain the lead off a Treyden Harris floater before the Huskies answered back and took a 49-48 lead.
Both team’s traded baskets, but Harris made an ridiculous shot from a little more than half-court at the buzzer that turned a 51-50 Cougar lead into a 54-50 Cascade lead into the fourth quarter.
“I mean we had to win this game to get into the playoffs,” said Harris, who scored 24 points in the game.
The Cougs pushed it to 56-50 before Bryce Lemon drained a three to cut it in half. Damian Ball and Carson Molan pushed the lead to seven at 60-53 before North Marion made another run at it as Griffin Henry cut it to one with 5:05 left.
Lemon got a steal and set up Grant Henry’s lay-in that gave the Huskies the lead again at 61-60 with 4:38 remaining.
Both sides traded blows again as they did in their first meeting and with 1:09 left, Ensign tied the game up at 71 after being down 70-65 moments earlier.
The game was up in the air for anyone as Cascade’s Joe Icovino got the Cougars back up two before Ensign scored one of his 19 points off a free throw that had North Marion down 73-72 with 44.8 seconds left in the ball game.
But, a minor hiccup following Harris’ And-One allowed Jordan Sampson to ice the game at 78-72 for the win.
“It was a lot about our intensity and our defense. We really had a good roll there at the end, we had a good push and that was the difference there because they’re a great team, we just had to pick it up there on defense,” said Icovino, who scored five of his seven points in the fourth quarter. “It’s huge because we weren’t certain what would have happened, but we really needed this win.”
With a few games pushed back due to the snow, it could be that the Cougars could adjust from 15 where they’re at right now either for the better or for the worse.
For the Huskies, this game could mean more than just heartbreak of losing on Senior Night, it could mark an end to a good season. At 23 following the game and with four games to play Wednesday around the State, North Marion’s season hangs in the balance of what those games hold for them.
Wagner knows that his team’s been battling hard and would love to see them have another crack at another game if it’s in their cards with how much they’ve gone through. Five of their 10 wins came by ten points or less, two of those ten wins by two points even.
Of their 14 losses, nine were by ten-or-less and three of those losses came from three-points or less. It’s games like those that brings out the character in teams said Wagner.
“That’s been our road this season, we always talked about how your character is revealed when things don’t go your way,” starts Wagner. “Everyone can have good character when everything is going right, but when things are going tough it’s difficult to show that character and I’m proud by that character that my kids consistently show on a daily basis and regardless of the outcome.
“I mean everyone in the locker room wants to win, but regardless of the outcome I’m proud of what they bring to the community as people and to the court as competitors.”
Grant Henry had 19 points and Sergio Jimenez scored 16 points for the Huskies as they wait to see where their fate holds come Wednesday night. Senior Nunez had three points and Lemon had eight points.
Molan had nine as did Sampson for Cascade. Ball had 27 points for the Cougars.