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Winners . . . The North Otago under-17 basketball team, pictured with coach Ian Cathcart (left) and manager Mel Lewis (right), has qualified for the national championship after winning the Otago Southland under-17 tournament in Invercargill at the weekend. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

North Otago’s under-17 basketball team has clinched the only Otago Southland qualifying spot to advance to the national championship.

Usually, the top two under-17 teams in Otago Southland qualify for the national tournament, but, due to Covid-19 restrictions, just one could advance this year.

Playing in Invercargill at the weekend, North Otago came up against Southland and Otago B in pool play.

After beating Otago B 107-67, but losing to Southland 92-80, it had to face Otago A in the semifinals.

“We knew we had to win the tournament to qualify,” coach Ian Cathcart said.

“The boys came out and we absolutely smoked them . . . we won [104-84] in the end.”

Facing Southland again in the final, North Otago was determined to win, and the players all dug in to grind out a 78-52 victory.

“We wanted payback, that’s for sure,” Cathcart said.

“The boys came together and played really well.”

Training for nationals, to be held in Christchurch in October, would start when the school competition finished, Cathcart said.

It would be a big step up for the North Otago players, but it would be a good experience and reward for those who had worked “really hard” to get there, he said.