Celt Conor Suing fires off a pitch during the Celts’ rain-canceled games with West Salem High School Tuesday, April 10. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

The McNary High School varsity baseball team hit a small slump last week losing two close games to Lake Oswego and North Salem high schools.

“The (North Salem) result was a disappointment because we didn’t play our best baseball. Defensively, we did not play up to the level that we had been playing,” said Larry Keeker, McNary head coach.

The Celts lost to Lake Oswego 3-2 in eight innings and 4-2 to the Vikings in the Central Valley Conference opener.

McNary pushed two runs across the plate in the fourth inning and loaded the bases with no outs at the top of the fifth, but the sticks cooled and left all runners stranded.

“Going into league, we were all really excited, but we didn’t hit as well as we can other than Kaleb [Simpson],” said Celt Chris Burger.

A three-error defensive stand at the bottom of the inning gave the Vikings all the leeway they needed to pull ahead for the win. Travis Marks and Simpson both had doubles in the games.

“It was a rough game. Our hitting wasn’t too good, but our pitching was and we’ll be able to come back,” Simpson said.

The team rebounded from the losses to take a 6-3 win hosting Beaverton High School Saturday, April 7. Marks, Justin Schneider and Garren Robinett handled duties on the mound while Burger had a double and drove in two runs at the dish.

Keeker said pitching has emerged as a strength for the team in the early part of the season.

“We had quality starts out of just about all of our guys: Jon Stong, Conor Suing, Justin Burgess, and Ben Johnson. Ben also had a good relief performances along with Justin Schnieder and Garren Robinett,” Keeker said.

The close losses were the result of lackluster run production, he added.

“If you play baseball long enough, hitting can and will be a humbling experience,” Keeker said. “It’s just one of those things where you have to get back to the fundamentals of the swing. A lot of it is mental, we’ve been swinging at pitches that aren’t so good and early in the count.”

The team faces a grueling schedule this week with games against rival West Salem High School as well as Sprague and South Salem high schools.

“We just need to settle down and have better plate appearances,” Simpson said.

Burger said the bonds the team has formed will help carry them forward.

“Even through the losses, we’ve stayed pretty strong all the way through and we’re not getting on anybody, we’re picking them up and encouraging them,” Burger said. “People who are a little under, we believe in them, too, and they’re going to come up really soon.”