CHARLESTON — Since the advent of the season, the North Marion Huskies had all but said it outright.

“Where we left off last year is still in the back of our minds,” Emma Freels said during a Dec. 8 practice. “We want to go further than last year, so everybody’s coming in and working hard.”

“She’s done a lot for this program,” head coach Mike Parrish said after Olivia Toland surpassed 1,500 points on Jan. 25. “We’re trying to get another two months out of her here and get the one thing for her that we haven’t got yet for this group.”

“We’ve seen everybody step up and do what they were supposed to do to get us to where we’re at now,” Addie Elliott said days before the Huskies’ postseason began. “Now it’s just the time where we need to grind and keep it going through to the finish line.”

Saturday night at the Charleston Coliseum, it was mission accomplished for the North Marion Huskies.

After two postseasons cut short in the state semifinals, the No. 1 Huskies’ not-so-subtle quest for a state title came to fruition against No. 6 Philip Barbour in a triumphant 88-60 Class-AAA championship victory.

“It’s indescribable,” Toland said after the victory. “No words I say could describe how any of us feel. We worked so hard all season, and that’s all we kept saying before the game was that we deserved this, we had worked so hard and we earned this. We played well out there.”

“I told them last year when we made it to the semis, that we didn’t work hard and we still made it to the semis,” Parrish said. “This year, we worked hard a little bit. The first couple weeks of practice, I was on them — ‘You all didn’t work, you don’t want to win it.’ And they proved me wrong. Maybe that motivated them, to prove me wrong and win a state championship.”

The Huskies snapped into form Saturday night, pumping through shots at a 56.5% clip after two laboring offensive games in the quarterfinals against Hampshire and semifinals against Ripley.

“We had some good quarters, but not good four quarters like that,” Parrish said. “When shots are falling the game’s so much easier, and they feed off that energy. And our kids came off the bench and hit big shots too to keep it going.”

Addie Elliott and Brooklynn Jackson each canned two 3-pointers in the opening quarter, setting the tone for a 12-22 day from North — a sterling 54.5 percent from beyond the arc.

“We were just moving the ball really well and getting the open shots and finishing,” Toland said. “We didn’t do a good job of that Thursday and Friday but today we just finished them and it showed.”

“Ran into a good team that shot very well,” Philip Barbour head coach Rick Mouser said. “Their pressure hurt us a little bit. And they shot 54% on 3’s, 12-22. It’s hard to do that. I’m still so proud, these girls played their butts off and played ‘til the buzzer went off.”

Four Huskies scored in double figures in the state title game, with Toland and Freels each scoring 18 to lead North Marion. Toland added three rebounds, nine assists and two steals, while Freels added two rebounds, four assists, two blocks and four steals.

After a game-winning shot Friday against Ripley, Freels said she had gotten the adrenaline under control by Saturday’s tipoff.

“After the game I was really excited but I knew we had to come here and play our hardest game because we wanted that state title, so we had to show up,” Freels said.

Brooklynn Jackson scored 13 on 5-6 shooting, including 3-3 from deep, while Aubrey Hamilton put together a 12-point, 13-rebound double-double.

North Marion got off to a fast start Saturday, looking much more like the typical Huskies team the Rachel faithful had grown accustomed to seeing — generating turnovers and speeding up and down the floor.

“That’s the start we wanted to set,” Parrish said. “Get out, get pressure on them, get the lead and keep going. Tonight we did that. We got the lead in the first two games, let them come back and had to battle and survive. Tonight was our basketball.”

“It was quick,” Mouser said. “The other two games we got ahead, today we got behind. It’s a lot easier when you’re ahead than it is when you’re behind. You try to press to catch up, you make a little leeway and then they hit two or three more 3’s and you’re right back where you were.”

North scored 10 points off six Colts turnovers in the first quarter, leading 26-10 by the end of the period.

The start was just what the doctor ordered to settle North into the game. Elliott and Freels hounded Philip Barbour the length of the court, Freels’ four steals coming behind Elliott’s game-high five, and the turnovers fueled the Huskies point-scoring machine on the other end.

“A great start to the game, and we put four quarters together, “ Parrish said. “It looked like Husky basketball tonight. We had a shootaround today and I was worried because we did not look too good. We were all hobbling around, but our trainer did a great job with them. They were ready to go tonight.”

“When you rebound like that, it leads to fast breaks. When you get turnovers it leads to fast breaks. You get easy baskets, layups, and then the jump shots are falling.”

Both coaches expressed the importance of rebounds in this game, a battle North Marion ultimately won, 47-34, in a change of fortunes from the two team’s earlier meeting, a 79-69 North Marion win on Jan.11.

“The first game we played at home, they killed us on the boards,” Parrish said. “Killed us — I think they had 21 offensive rebounds in the first half. We outrebounded them by 13 and I told them that was the key, ball pressure and rebounding. If we controlled the boards we’d be in good shape.”

Hamilton’s 13 rebounds played a massive role in North’s rebounding edge, the baker’s dozen tying Philip Barbour’s Mackenna Halfin.

“She’s really stepped up her play,” Parrish said of Hamilton. “Being strong on the boards, she was the key for our rebounding. She gives 110% all the time and she got some bonus points for us. When she scores points those are bonus points. We need to get that out of her.

“I asked her this morning, ‘How’s your chicken wing?’ When she woke up this morning she couldn’t raise her shoulder. Our trainer worked with her, put some heat and ice on her, got her ready to go.”

Alongside Hamilton, fellow sophomores Kathryn Carson (six rebounds, six points, two assists) and Kierrabelle Harbert (eight rebounds, one assist, one block) played pivotal roles.

“Her and all of our bigs,” Parrish said of his team’s rebounding. “Three sophomores that didn’t have a lot of varsity experience last year, and we were rotating them through. They did a great job all year and they were a big key for our run.”

North Marion led 51-24 at halftime.

Elliott scored six points, Cierra Parker scored six, Meya Kotsko scored seven and Haley Smith scored two for North Marion.

“We didn’t get a lot of bench production the first two games, but today they showed up, hit big shots and made the game a lot easier for us,” Parrish said.

Freshman Brooklynn Jackson scored 13 points with two assists and a steal in a gutsy performance off the bench from the first-year player.

“We know what to expect out of her next year, every game,” Parrish said.

The state title comes in North Marion’s 14th trip to Charleston in the last 16 years. It is head coach Mike Parrish’s fifth championship.

“We got a great community,” Parrish said. “It was great to see a lot of people come down here. We had a lot of former players that’d played for me, some of their little kids were here. It was great to see the Husky family of basketball, and it’s great to bring another title to Husky country.”

“When I was little, I came to every game at the Civic Center, every home game,” Toland said. “Growing up watching them, this is something I’d always dreamed of doing, and I finally did it. It’s honestly so surreal, I can’t believe it. I had this goal for I don’t know how long and we did it.”

Reach Nick Henthorn at 304-367-2548, on Twitter @nfhenthorn_135 or by email at

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