Baili Keeton makes a charge for the hoop in the game with West Salem Tuesday, Jan. 28. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

Baili Keeton makes a charge for the hoop in the game with West Salem Tuesday, Jan. 28. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

Of the Keizertimes

If the ladies on the South Salem High School girls varsity basketball team probably had a tougher time than usual getting to sleep Friday night, it was because the Lady Celts had been giving them fits all evening.

“It was so much fun. We were all just playing great,” said Lady Celt Madi Hingston. “Even when they were up by a little bit we knew we couldn’t let them get away from us.”

The seventh-ranked Saxons ended up with the 47-42 win, but there were moments in the first three quarters when the outcome was far from certain.

“In the beginning, we had a lot of pressure on South and our defense was good. On offense, we executed plays pretty well and found some opportunities to score,” said McNary’s Reina Strand.

In the early going, McNary ran up a 10-point lead over the Salem team and finished the frame ahead by five points. The Saxons shaved the gap to one point at the half, but were back down by six after the third quarter.

“South was getting shots, but they were contested shots,” said Paul Pickerell, McNary head coach. “We were taking our time and switching up our defense, which allowed us to control the pace”

In the fourth frame, McNary’s tanks ran dry and the Saxons found their groove to outshoot the Celts 16-5.

“We couldn’t hit a basket and they were hitting some crucial shots,” Hingston said.

It was also a matter of losing some composure, Strand added.

“Back-to-back turnovers went in their favor and that kind of killed us, but we also weren’t running through our offense all the way through,” she said. After keeping turnovers to five in the first half, McNary had 12 in the second half.

Baili Keeton and Sydney Hunter led the Celtics with 10 points each, Kaelie Flores had nine,  Hingston had eight, Strand put in six, and Ashlee Koenig had one. Hunter had a double-double that included 11 assists.

The win kept South at the top of the Central Valley Conference while McNary is still scrapping it out with West Salem High School for control of second place in the league.

For a few days in the middle of the week, the Lady Celts were standing alone in the slot after besting the Titans in the teams’ first match-up of the season. McNary won 57-51.

“The execution didn’t go real well for either team in the outset and West hit a buzzer beater in the first quarter that put them ahead,” Pickerell said.

Headed into halftime, McNary trailed 27-20 and Strand said the team room was silent.

“But we had some great girls on our bench who encouraged us to get back out there and pick it up. That positive attitude helped us fight back,” Strand said.

And fight back is exactly what the team did. McNary bounded back onto the court to put up 21 points in the third quarter while holding West to 13 en route to the win.

“After halftime, we really just focused up and got the job done,” Hingston said.

The Celts hit 18 of 23 from the foul line in the game, which went a long way toward the win.

Strand had a game-leading 20 points, Keeton put in 17, Koenig had eight, Hingston and Flores had five each and Hunter had two.

With games on deck against North Salem and Sprague high schools, Strand said it was the perfect time to ready themselves for a third bite at South Salem’s apple. The teams could face each other once more in the tournament for the CVC title.

“These games are the perfect time for us to run everything correctly and give us chances to try and perfect new things we’ve been working on,” she said.