By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
The McNary High School varsity baseball team may be in third place in the Central Valley Conference but the team might as well have been on top of the world Friday, April 25.
Facing West Salem High School, the top team in the CVC and No. 6 team in all of Oregon, the Celtics pulled off a 2-0 win.
“It felt good to beat the team who was first in our league. Their pitcher, Caleb Henry, was Pitcher of the Year last year and, quite frankly, Mickey (Walker) just out-dueled him,” said Larry Keeker, McNary head coach.
The combination of timely hits and a determined stand by Walker, a junior, on the mound saw the team through. Walker threw a one-hitter with 10 strikeouts and three walks in a complete game effort.
“My goal was to hit location, make them put the ball in play and trust my defense behind me. We made most of the plays and I couldn’t have asked for a better defensive stand,” said Walker.
McNary notched its first run in the bottom of the second inning on a double by senior Hayden Gosling that plated Jacob Wood from third base.
The only other run of the game came in the bottom of the fourth. Senior Jordan Barchus started things off with a double to center field and advanced to third on a ground out by Gosling. Connor Goff’s line drive to right field brought Barchus home.
“We made the plays we needed to make when we needed to and got the hits when we needed them,” Barchus said. “Mickey also did a hell of a job pitching and it’s probably one of the best pitching performances we’ve had. They are a great group of hitters and Mickey held them down.”
Walker outmatched Henry in every category from first-pitch strikes to walks.
The game set the stage for what promised to be a raucous week for McNary. The team had games with Sprague, McKay, South Salem and North Salem on tap.
“I want to test our endurance and stay in the competition for the title. We need to keep going and stay motivated through the entire week,” Walker said.
Keeker hoped the team would increase the distance between their third place standing and the fourth place Olys on Monday, April 28, but the Celtics lost 7-5.
A seven-run second inning put Sprague up 7-1, but McNary clawed back with three in the fifth.
Singles by Jacob Vasas, Wood and Walker loaded the bases and a single by Barchus plated Vasas and Wood and put Walker on third. Walker scored on a ground out by Gosling.
Two days prior to the West game, the Celts took a loss to North Salem High School, 4-0. The Vikings strung together one run at a time in the game’s third, fourth, fifth and sixth innings to take the win.
“It was the exact opposite of the West game,” Barchus said. “We didn’t perform well and they beat us.”
The Keizer team had runners on third three times in the contest, but failed to capitalize on any of the opportunities. Wood had the best day at the plate, going 2 for 4.
Barchus and Connor Suing shared the mound. Barchus pitched four innings allowing runs hits on three hits with five strikeouts. Suing pitched two innings with one run on two hits.
The 4-3 Celtics are sitting in third place with North Salem a game ahead and Sprague a game behind. Holding onto that position will be the challenge in a heated league, and the inconsistency at the dish has dogged the team all season.
“The key to our offense is getting everybody on a roll. We always have a few guys picking us up, but we need everyone going at the right time and bang out some runs,” Walker said.
Barchus said the team struggles with taking the mechanics the team practices each day and turning it into focus during games.
“Part of it has been the pitchers we’ve faced. We always draw the other team’s No. 1 or No. 2 guy,” said Keeker. “But that’s not the whole story. We’re striking out way too much. The ball needs to be in play and forcing the other team’s defense to make plays.”