By DEREK WILEY
Of the Keizertimes
ALBANY—McNary girls basketball coach Derick Handley said before the season started that the Greater Valley Conference had improved.
At West Albany, he found out just how much as the Lady Celts opened league play Friday, Dec. 9 with a 48-41 loss.
MHS swept the Bulldogs last season, outscoring them 128-58.
“They’re improved,” Handley said of West Albany. “They’re a better team than they were a year ago. You’ve got to give them credit. They knocked down some shots that a year ago they weren’t able to do. They have two of the best post players (Georgia Smith and Saylor Siegner) in the league if not the best post players in the league. I think we had a little bit of a mismatch there.”
The two teams played to a 4-4 tie through the first quarter as the Lady Celts struggled to attack West Albany’s zone defense.
“Honestly, I think yesterday we had a snow day,” Handley said. “We didn’t get to practice because of Salem-Keizer rules so it really made it difficult for us to implement a game plan other than just talk to the girls today and show them the film. We didn’t get to walk through.”
The scoring picked up in the second quarter as sophomore Abigail Hawley came off the bench to knock down a 3-pointer and give McNary a 9-6 lead. But the Bulldogs answered with a 3-pointer of their own to tie the game. Senior Sydney Hunter then picked up two quick fouls and went to the bench.
In Hunter’s absence, Hawley continued to lead on the offensive end, making another 3-pointer, despite being fouled, to give MHS a 14-11 lead. She then knocked down the free throw to complete the 4-point play.
West Albany kept answering but two baskets by McNary junior Paige Downer kept the Lady Celts on top, 22-21, with less than a minute remaining in the second quarter. However, the Bulldogs scored five points in the final 15 seconds, including a long 3-pointer at the buzzer to lead 26-22 at intermission.
Playing a smaller lineup, McNary, led by Hunter and Kailey Doutt, opened the second half on a 10-0 run to go ahead 32-26 with 3:17 remaining in the third quarter.
Smith ended the run with a field goal and added a 3-pointer to get West Albany within 34-30. Hunter then picked up her fourth foul with 1:18 left in the third.
After the Bulldogs got within 34-32, Hawley knocked down another 3-pointer at the 1:02 mark but that was the last field goal the Lady Celts would make.
The Bulldogs opened the fourth quarter on a 12-2 run to take a 45-39 lead with only 2:30 remaining.
After Hunter made two free throws to get McNary within 41-45, Jaylene Montano then forced a West Albany turnover to give the Lady Celts a chance.
However, MHS turned the ball right back over and weren’t able score the rest of the night.
“There’s a lot of excuses we can make but ultimately they played harder,” Handley said. “Loose balls, they got them, we didn’t. We didn’t rebound very well tonight. We didn’t shoot very well tonight. It was a combination of a lot of things. You’ve got to get them credit.”
The Lady Celts were 4-for-21 from behind the 3-point arc.
“We struggled as a team just settling for outside jump shots,” Handley said. “We’re not a 3-point shooting team. For some reason today we thought we were. We weren’t aggressive with the dribble. We didn’t attack their zone. We didn’t look short corner ever and we had a lot of openings there.”
Despite foul trouble, Hunter was able to post a double-double of 14 points and 13 rebounds. Hawley and Doutt each had 10 points.
The loss was the first for McNary, who opened the season 3-0.
“This is one, we’re going to show the film, we’re going to learn from it,” Handley said. “Hopefully, it’s the last time we have to show film like this. There’s a lot to learn. There’s a lot to learn from early games. I wish it wasn’t a league game. I wish it wasn’t a learning moment in our first league game. This was not quite how we were looking to kick it off this year.”