McNary’s Paige Downer slips between two Saxon defenders in the game Tuesday, Feb. 2. The Lady Celts lost 67-51. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

McNary’s Paige Downer slips between two Saxon defenders in the game Tuesday, Feb. 2. The Lady Celts lost 67-51. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

When the McNary High School girls varsity basketball team met South Salem High School Tuesday, Feb. 2, nothing less than a piece of the Greater Valley Conference title was on the line.

A 67-51 win for the Saxons means they now sit alone atop the GVC pile. McNary settles into second on the loss.

Aside from a brief 2-0 lead to start the game, McNary found itself playing catch-up the rest of the night.

The Celtics’ first possessions of the game were troubled, but not disastrous. More than once, one of the McNary girls attacked the Saxons’ zone defense and got tangled up in traffic, leading to turnovers. When the Keizer team tried attacking from the perimeter, the shots wouldn’t fall. The result was a 29-15 lead for South by the end of the first quarter.

South Salem’s lead was cut to eight points, 36-28, by halftime, but McNary would never get any closer. The loss snapped a six-game win streak for the Celts.

Senior Reina Strand led the team with 15 points. Madi Hingston had 11.

The Lady Celts set the stage for the showdown with South Salem by taking a pair of wins over North Salem and Forest Grove high schools last week.

McNary beat North 78-12 and Forest Grove 46-29.

In the game with North, the Celtics clamped down on defense early and ran up a 31-2 lead in the first frame.

“We like to experiment with defense and it was incredibly successful that night,” said Derick Handley, McNary head coach. “It was interesting how much more aggressive the team was willing to be. Even when we had a large lead, the girls were still jumping into passing lanes and creating turnovers.”

Running up the score early gave McNary time to clear the bench in the second half, and Handley was no less impressed with the B-team.

“They earned their minutes and executed just as well as our starters,” Handley said.

While starter Kailey Doutt led all scoring with 14 points, junior Gabby Schmidt was right behind her with 12 points.

“We work just as hard as the starters working through our plays, but it was the first night we got enough time on the court to put it all together,” Schmidt said.

Every single Lady Celt contributed to the final score. Sydney Hunter had nine points, Anita Lao had eight points, Hingston had seven; Jaylene Montano, Kaelie Flores and Paige Downer had six each, R. Strand had five, Alexa Strand and Abbie Hawley had two apiece and Kelsey Koenig had one from the foul line.

The Celts had a bit of a scare in the game with Forest Grove Friday, Jan. 29.

Midway through the second quarter, Handley was looking for someone to ignite the team as the Celtics struggled to break the Forest Grove’s zone coverage.

“Everyone was looking to the person next to them. Paige went in with about three or four minutes left in the first half and she dove after a loose ball, got a steal on the next play and really sparked us when we needed it,” he said.

McNary trailed 16-14 going into halftime, but outscored the the Vikings 32-13 in the second half.

Downer said she was trying to transfer the energy she felt to what was happening on court.

“I felt like we were slow at first because none of our shots were going in and I wanted to change that,” she said.

Downer also began attacking the zone coverage in a way the Celtic team had been hesitant to do prior to her arrival on the hardwood.

“If she didn’t supply that energy, I don’t know if anyone was going to,” Handley said.

The key for continued success for the team, said Downer, is keeping heads held high.

“We can get better by staying positive,” she said. “When we get down on ourselves our game seems to slip. That’s when we need focus on the plays and trust that they will work.”