Swarming defense puts Celts over the top in season finale

Leah Doutt puts defensive pressure on the ball at the top of McNary’s 2-3 zone in the Celtics 48-29 win over Sherwood (KEIZERTIMES/Matt Rawlings).

The McNary girls basketball team gave one of their best performances of the season in their final game of the year. 

Leah Doutt filled out the stat sheet with 18 points, six assists, five steals and eight rebounds while Bekah Grimmer added 14 points and eight rebounds as the Celtics defeated Sherwood 48-29 to take third place in the White Bracket of a culminating-week state tournament at Grant High School on Thursday, June 24. 

“I am just really proud of our girls, for the season in general, and especially these last three games,” McNary coach Elizabeth Doran said.

The Celtics finish the year with a 12-3 record. Despite the season being shortened due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is McNary’s highest win total since the 2017-18 season. 

“We knew going in that this was going to be our last game together, so we wanted to go out and leave it all out on the court. We really executed our game plan,” Doutt said. 

The biggest aspect of the McNary game plan was figuring out how to slow down Sherwood’s Ava Heiden – a 6-foot-4 post who is considered to be one of the best freshman players in the state.

Without a player over 5-foot-9, Doran elected to play a 2-3 zone for the entire game, with two players at the bottom of the zone covering Heiden. 

The plan worked to perfection as the Celtics limited Heiden to just five points — Sherwood’s 29 points for the game was their lowest output of the season. 

“We executed our defensive scout to a T and just did a really good job. Overall our defense was tremendous,” Doran said. “We pretty much had two kids on her at all times. We played one in front and one behind to discourage the pass into her, because if she gets the ball inside, we are in a bad situation. Limiting her touches around the basket was our game plan.”

“We had to keep her out of the key and box her out hard so she couldn’t get offensive rebounds,” Grimmer added. “We had good communication to keep her away from the basket.

Despite their exceptional defensive effort, the Celtics had a hard time getting going offensively early on as they only held a 6-4 lead at the end of the first quarter. 

But at the start of the second period, Doutt began to take over.

The senior point guard had a put-back basket off her own miss to begin the quarter, then knocked down a runner on the following possession. 

Later in the period, Doutt got fouled on her way to the basket on separate occasions and knocked down all four free throws to put the Celtics on top 14-8.

“We were struggling, so I was just attacking whenever I could and trying to get open shots for my team,” Doutt said. “Getting Bekah some shots in the paint was also really helpful.”

Doutt went from scorer to facilitator late in the first half as she hit Grimmer with a pair of beautiful feeds for easy hoops off the pick-and-roll action.

“They switched all screens, that gave us some mismatches that Leah was able to attack. We were just taking advantage of mismatches,” Doran said.

A steal and fast-break layup by Doutt put McNary up 20-10, but Sherwood closed the second quarter on an 8-1 run to cut the deficit to 21-18 going into halftime. 

Grimmer, however, continued to get good looks to start the second half, scoring six straight points for the Celtics. 

“If they got it into me, I could work in the post and get a good shot up with someone smaller on me,” Grimmer said. “It was me and Leah working together.”

McNary was clinging to a three-point lead midway through the third quarter, but baskets from Doutt and Kylie Nepstad gave the Celtics a 31-24 advantage at the end of the period.

Even though Sherwood was in striking distance to start the fourth quarter, the Celtics began to pull away in the final period. 

A bucket by Grimmer in the post, followed by a corner triple by Doutt put McNary up 36-25. Grimmer continued her hot streak by putting in a turnaround jumper to increase the Celtics lead to 13.

Midway through the final period, the Celtics ran a minute off the clock before KJ Custer concluded the long possession with a baseline 3-pointer, which proved to be the dagger. 

The Celtics defense also held Sherwood to just five points in the fourth quarter.

“We went after every loose ball and got every rebound. We wanted it really bad,” Doutt said.

The game represented the end of an era for the McNary girls program as the team will be graduating five seniors, who have each been on the varsity squad since their sophomore season. While Doran is excited about the future of the program, she is thankful that her seniors got the chance to ride off into the sunset. 

“It just meant the world for these girls to have a senior season. They played for each other the whole season, which really makes a team pretty powerful,” Doran said.

Matt Rawlings: [email protected]