McNary’s Sydney Hunter puts up a shot in the Celtics’ game with South Salem High School. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

McNary’s Sydney Hunter puts up a shot in the Celtics’ game with South Salem High School. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

Of the Keizertimes 

While the McNary boys were striking fear into the hearts of their Saxon counterparts on the basketball court, the McNary girls where experiencing their own moment in the spotlight taking on the Lady Saxons.

The girls varsity basketball ran up a 7-0 lead playing cutthroat defense and keeping South out of the basket for the first several minutes of the game Tuesday, Jan. 14.

“The first half of the game was easily our best half of the season,” said Paul Pickerell, McNary head coach. “I’m not a huge fan of moral victories, but the girls were competitive and playing the kind of game that exemplified what we do well.”

The Keizer team ended up taking a 60-42 loss, but the inspired start was precisely what the Lady Celts were seeking.

“We were all just pumped up with it being our first league game and we were really going hard,” said Lady Celt Madi Hingston. “Our offense was great and then we got a lot of defensive stops.”

The Saxons found their rhythm slowly and overtook McNary 13-11 by the end of the first quarter. By halftime, the Celts had slipped seven points behind as Saxon Katie McWilliams hit the net shot after shot on her way to a game-leading 24 points.

“It wasn’t anything that we changed, but they got back into their groove and we lost a bit of our momentum,” said McNary junior Jasmine Ernest.

Reina Strand led Celtic scoring with 14 points, Ashlee Koenig and Hingston had six points each, Sydney Hunter and Kaelie Flores had five points each, Baili Keeton had four and Alyx Peterson had two.

The Celts’ follow-up game with North Salem High School Friday, Jan. 17, was a reversal in nearly every way. The Celts started out slow, notching only one point in the first four minutes, while North Salem built up its own lead. Despite the early miscues, McNary won 63-46.

“After the first four minutes we picked it up again and started communicating and then we were running on them and getting big opportunities,” Ernest said. “We have a lot of younger people putting in big minutes and big plays and it’s turning into a whole team effort on and off the court.”

Once the Celts got going, the team put up a season high 10 three-pointers. Celt scoring leader Keeton, who had 17 points on the night, accounted for five of the treys, Emma Jones and Cammie Decker had two and Hingston put in one. Overwhelming stats aside, Pickerell said the team was capable of a better start.

“We played down when we could have come out with more. We still had starters in in the fourth quarter and I expected us to be getting the girls down the roster time on the court,” Pickerell said.

Pickerell expected a mixed bag of challenges in games with Sprague and McKay high schools, which were on tap this week.

“Sprague is going to press us up and down the court and McKay is going to play a lot of zone,” he said. “McKay is going to be a tougher team than they have been in recent years, and we can’t expect an easy win.”