Shorthanded Celts fall to West Salem in league opener

McNary forward Annie-Leigh Besa goes up for a shot after receiving the ball in the post. Besa led the Celtics with 14 points, but McNary still fell to West Salem 61-45 on Friday, Jan. 17 (KEIZERTIMES/Matt Rawlings).

The McNary girls basketball squad nearly played even with West Salem in the final three quarters. But the Celtics couldn’t overcome the hole they dug themselves into in the opening period.

The Titans started the first quarter on a 20-5 run and McNary couldn’t get the game back into single digits as the Celtics fell to West Salem 61-45 in their Mountain Valley Conference opener on Friday, Jan. 17.

McNary was without their starting point guard, Leah Doutt, who was battling an illness all week.

Without their top ball-handler, the Celtics struggled in dealing with West Salem’s half-court trap, which led to several turnovers for McNary.

“Not having Leah there was definitely difficult. She usually takes a lot of that pressure off with the full-court press,” McNary forward Annie-Leigh Besa said.

The Celtics also gave up numerous easy baskets to West Salem after suffering several defensive breakdowns in the first half.

“There were a lot of things we were kicking ourselves about in the first half,” McNary head coach Elizabeth Doran said. “We struggled with leaving the weak side open when we were double-teaming their guards and our transition defense wasn’t great. We made progress, but we need to adjust quicker in games to what is going on.”

McNary found themselves trailing at the half 39-21. One of the only bright spots in the first half for McNary was Besa, who scored eight points off the bench in the first 16 minutes — she would finish the game with a team-high 14 points.

“I knew we needed something to get us going. At that point, there was nothing to lose, so I was just playing with confidence in myself,” Besa said.

The Celtics cut into the lead at the start of the third quarter when Kylie Nepstad and Kenzie Proctor hit back-to-back triples to trim the lead to 14. Kendyl Jennings, who had 10 points on the night, also got involved in the scoring action.

But West Salem responded by going on an 11-2 run to end the quarter, which gave them a 54-31 advantage.

Despite the score being out of reach, McNary had some positives to build on in the final period, including their defense stepping up and holding the Titans to just seven points in the fourth quarter.

“That was something that we were praised on in the locker room even though we fell short,” Besa said.

McNary travels to Bend on Saturday, Jan. 25 for a 2:30 p.m. game. The Celtics will return home on Thursday, Jan. 30 for a 5:45 p.m. matchup with Sprague.