By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
When the McNary and West Salem girls varsity basketball teams clash, it’s typically a big deal, but Head Coach Derick Handley had a few butterflies headed into the game Tuesday, Jan. 13.
“We have had some early struggles this season against talented teams, and I knew that we matched up very closely with West Salem. Our coaches weren’t sure how we’d handle a difficult team in a difficult environment (at West),” Handley said.
Had it not been for junior Kaelie Flores, Handley might have had more cause for hand-wringing. Flores poured in 24 points going 12 for 12 from the field en route to a 64-53 win.
“We were struggling a bit with shots early, but she kept us in it until her teammates warmed up,” Handley said.
The Celtics outscored the Titans 15-11 in the first frame, but the teams went into halftime with only three points separating them. Defense played a major part in the third period.
“Vanessa Hayes and Lauren Hudgins played outstanding defense against Paige Whipple, who is probably their biggest threat, which allowed us to be aggressive on defending their guards,” Handley said. McNary held West to just eight points in the third period while scoring 15.
In the final quarter, both teams were shooting out the lights. McNary put in 24 points to West’s 21, but it was too little too late for the Titans.
“We learned a lot about the character of our players that game. They played hard for 32 minutes, something that we haven’t done all year, and it was a big win for us,” Handley said.
Celt Sydney Hunter followed Flores in scoring with 12 points; Madi Hingston had a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds; Kailey Doutt put up eight points, Jasmine Ernest had five; Hudgins had two; and Emma Jones and Hayes both knocked one down from the foul line.
If the West Salem game was a stride forward for the girls against top-tier opponents, the Lady Celts matched their effort with a game vs. McKay High School Friday, Jan. 16.
“We’ve been talking to the girls about having ‘faceless opponents,’ meaning it doesn’t matter who we play, we have to execute our style of basketball. In games you expect to win it can be difficult to get the players up to playing hard, but we came out with a focus on getting better no matter the opponent,” Handley said.
The Celtics wiped the floor with the Royal Scots in a 61-8 win. McNary’s defense barely let up, but McKay’s players were struggling to get off good shots for much of the evening. The Salem team didn’t even make it to the board until the second quarter, but McNary was able to get all of its players off the bench as a result.
Flores had another big game with 16 points; Hingston had nine; Doutt, Hunter and Hudgins had eight points apiece; Jaylene Montano had six; and Ernest and Jones, had two each.
The Celtics had only one game slated this week. They travel to meet McMinnville High School Friday, Jan. 23.
“We know going up there is a tough place to play. They have some hard working players who are going to make us work to get good shots,” Handley said.