ALMENA, Kansas -

If at times it seems like the Northern Valley Huskies have an extra man on the floor with them that's because in their minds they do

“We kinda play through him knowing that he's helping us out watching above us,” said senior Jordan Baird.

He is sophomore Eli Lowry, who was killed in a car accident on November 3 right before the beginning of basketball season.

It was pretty emotional, but we all got together and we all wanted to win for Eli,” said senior Hunter Chandler.

And as the Huskies have been on their improbable journey toward a berth in this week’s Class1A Division II State basketball tournament, Lowry has been with this team every step of the way.

“We bought jerseys that we warm up in that have number 12 on them,” said head coach Chuck Fessenden. “Some of kids have armbands and some of them tie them on their shoe laces.”

When Northern Valley won sub-state title this past weekend, Lowry was with them again in spirit. The Huskies even included his jersey in the team shot with the championship trophy.

“We thought it should be in memory of him so we decided to hang the jersey up right by the trophy,” said Baird.

It’s been 22 years since Northern Valley has played for a championship in any sport. The love they have felt from the community has provided added motivation to aspire to something great.

“It’s been 22 years since we last went to state, so it’s a big deal for this community,” said Baird. “I’m having a blast. It feels good to have the community behind me like this. Everybody is happy. I don’t even know how to explain it.”

Now Northern Valley has the daunting task of playing the number one ranked team in Class 1A Division II, St. John’s-Tipton in the opening-round of state it's nothing compared to what they've already been through as a team.

“It's been emotional knowing he's not here, but we know he's watching over us,” said Baird.