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Huskies cling to lead in Oregon West Conference after three straight shutout victories

PHIL HAWKINS - North Marion freshman Mya Hammack scored both goals in the Huskies' 2-0 win over Stayton on Thursday and contributed one more against No. 9 Philomath two days prior.As the North Marion girls soccer team ends the first round of action in the Oregon West Conference, the Huskies are pitching some impressive stats against the rest of their league opponents. After back-to-back shutout victories last week, North Marion has gone more than two weeks since giving up a goal.

But the biggest news comes from within the program itself. After handing No. 9 Philomath and Stayton consecutive 2-0 losses last week, the Huskies find themselves listed No. 1 in the OSAA rankings for the first time in program history.

North Marion (7-1, 4-0 Oregon West Conference) has won four straight games after falling to the No. 8 Molalla Indians in their non-conference finale in mid-September. With No. 5 Cascade looming on the horizon this week, the Huskies aren't focused on their lofty position with six games left in the regular season, but simply on what they can do to get by a Cougar defense that has surrendered just four goals this season.

"Focus on each game at a time," North Marion Head Coach Ben Bonser said. "Every game is a winnable game. We'll just keep playing and hopefully keep healthy."

North Marion's own defensive surge began on Sept. 21 with a 2-0 win over Yamhill-Carlton and continued last week with another 2-0 win over the Philomath Warriors (4-3-1, 2-1-1 OWC), who were coming off a 10-0 rout of Newport the week before.

The Warriors entered last week's game with the top offense in the Oregon West Conference and one of the most prolific scoring attacks in the state, netting 21 goals in a three-game span before facing North Marion.

The Huskies answered their offense with a simple answer — you can't score if you don't have the ball.

"That was kind of our game plan," Bonser said. "We wanted to possess the ball and not give them opportunities, and we knew that eventually one of ours was going to fall."

It didn't happen in the first half, as both teams played to a stalemate in the first 40 minutes. North Marion controlled the ball for much of the time, but each chance the Huskies got to mount an attack was met with a suffocating defense from the Warriors, who brought eight or nine defenders into the box to counter.

The Huskies finally got their opportunity in the second half, when junior Mar Verastegui streaked up the right side of the field, negotiated past the Warrior defense and chipped the ball over the head of the Philomath keeper from 15 yards out to put her team up 1-0.

PHIL HAWKINS - Senior defender Camry Jones leads a North Marion defense that has held opponents scoreless in each of the last three games.The second goal came 10 minutes later from freshman Mya Hammack, who hammered the ball into the back of the net from point blank range to bring the Huskies to their final margin of victory, handing the Warriors their first loss in the conference standings.

"Just a little test for our defense, but it was mostly team possession that kept them out of the game," Bonser said after the game. "They just didn't get the ball very often."

As good as the Warriors had been on offense, Bonser saw that they could be scored on as well. Philomath had given up three goals in a win against Stayton, and three more in a non-conference loss at Gladstone. The Warriors also gave up four goals in their season-opener against Hidden Valley. With enough patience, Bonser figured that his team would eventually find a scoring lane or two against the Warriors.

"It looks like it kind of goes both ways looking at their stats," he said. "They've been scoring quite a bit, but then they've been scored on quite a bit."

The Huskies followed the win against the Warriors with their third consecutive 2-0 victory against a conference foe, beating the Stayton Eagles (3-4, 1-3 OWC) Thursday on the road.

Hammack netted both goals for the Huskies in the win, continuing her impressive high school as the Huskies' top offensive threat. Through eight games this season, Hammack has scored 11 goals and assisted on four more, contributing to more than half of North Marion's scores goals this season.

With the game against Cascade (4-0-2, 3-0-1 OWC) scheduled for Tuesday, North Marion is looking to finish their first round of conference games unbeaten before turning their attention to Newport on Thursday. Including the two games scheduled for this week, the Huskies finish the regular season playing at home in four of their final six contests.

"We're looking at a good first round going through," Bonser said. "Keep everyone healthy and happy. They're playing great together."

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