CHARLESTON — It had been 13-plus months since the chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic spoiled North Marion’s potential state title run last season, but on Wednesday, as the Huskies returned to the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center for the first time since their 2020 dreams were dashed, they brewed up a devastating and chaotic storm en route to an 80-47 opening quarterfinal victory over No. 7 Hampshire.

With the win, which was its second over Hampshire this season, the No. 2 North Marion girls advance to Friday’s Class AAA semifinal against No. 3 Nitro, with the game set to begin at 11:15 a.m.

“It was a great team effort today. We came out flying around and moving the ball and making shots,” said North Marion coach Mike Parrish. “We’ve had some interesting Game 1s down here, but today was one of those where we were glad to see the ball go through the hoop and that makes things a lot easier.”

“As soon as one person brings the energy, the whole entire team has energy, and that’s just how we play,” said North Marion senior guard Karlie Denham, who went off for a game-high 29 points on 11-of-18 shooting, to go with seven assists, five rebounds and five steals.

North Marion (14-0) blitzed Hampshire (11-5) from the very start, as the Huskies delivered a momentous two-way performance to further build off what was likely their best performance of the season in the regional co-final when they authored a 42-point win over Keyser.

On defense, the Huskies’ signature 2-2-1 full-court press spun the Trojans like a centrifuge, as NMHS’s frontline sprung traps that put Hampshire’s ball handlers in a straight jacket and its second and third level defenders pounced on wobbly and deflected passes to pluck a flurry of steals. All told, North Marion forced Hampshire into 30 turnovers and limited the Trojans to 30% shooting from the field.

And on offense, North was equally as on-point.

Denham and fellow guard Emma Freels and forward Olivia Toland collapsed Hampshire’s man-to-man defense with endless cycles of drive-and-kicks in the half court, and the Huskies as a whole were a titanic force hunting opportunities in transition. Denham alone exploded for a game-high 29 points on 11-of-18 shooting, while Toland and Freels also cracked double figures with 16 points and 12 points, respectively, and combined the trio dished 14 of the team’s 21 assists.

Junior center Katlyn Carson added another eight points for North Marion, and she was also her usual fixture as the backbone of the team’s press as she recorded nine rebounds and a game-high five blocks to go with a pair of steals. Adryan Stemple scored another five points for the Huskies, and also tallied four assists, three rebounds and two steals.

As a team, North Marion shot 40.5% from the field on 79 total shot attempts, including 50.9% in the first three quarters, and the Huskies also hit eight 3-pointers while giving up just 12 turnovers.

“We just get a lot of steals out of our press, which leads to a lot of open layups, which leads to momentum, and we’re really good with momentum where if someone makes a layup, we’re hyping them up, cheering them on, and then we end up finding another person and getting another open layup,” said Toland, who scored her 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting. “It’s all really about that momentum and that energy.”

“Obviously, it wasn’t the outcome that we had hoped,” Hampshire coach Julieanne Buckley said. “We were very confident going in, but we had some nerves with a lot of young girls.”

The two-way dominance from the Huskies buried the Trojans in short order, as North Marion ticked off an early 11-0 run and led 27-11 after a first quarter in which it scored 20 points directly off of 10 Hampshire turnovers. Denham and Toland were especially in top gear for NMHS, as the duo combined for 19 points in the first quarter, with Denham scoring 10 points and Toland adding nine.

Denham, in particular, shredded Hampshire all game long with frenzied activity and cutthroat aggression on both ends. Offensively, she kickstarted both the Huskies’ transition game with ceaseless pushes up the floor and its half-court attack with an off-the-bounce verve that repeatedly sliced fissures into the Trojans’ man-to-man defense. Denham gobbled up a bundle of her own finishes, and she also spread the wealth to teammates with a series of drop-off assists on fast breaks and on dribble drives. And when Hampshire did curtail her drives and attacks, she scorched the Trojans from beyond the arc, as she went 4-of-8 from deep, including back-to-back triples to open the second half.

“I think we just worked really well as a team today,” said Denham, who scored 17 of her 29 in the first half and 23 of her 29 within the opening minute of the third quarter. “Everyone got open shots, everyone passed, and everyone did their job.”

“Their three top players (Denham, Toland and Carson) are respectable for sure,” Buckley said. “So their respectable and they couldn’t miss and we couldn’t make, so that’s how the cookie crumbles.”

North Marion eventually ballooned the margin to 20-plus early in the second quarter at 32-11, and Hampshire never really made many inroads thereafter as the Trojans briefly cut the margin back down to 17 at 34-17 but quickly saw their deficit increase back to 20-plus moments later.

Ellen Keaton led Hampshire with a noteworthy double-double performance of 20 points and 10 rebounds, to go with three steals and two blocks. Liz Pryor and Gracie Fields also scored another nine points and eight points, respectively, for the Trojans.

“We definitely improved a lot from the beginning of the year — we can tell just by when we watch film from earlier in the season — and you can definitely tell we’ve came a long way,” Fields said. “We made it here and that was a big accomplishment for us.”

Email Bradley Heltzel at bheltzel@timeswv.com or follow him on Twitter @bradheltzTWV.

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