Senior Gunner Smedema hugs an assistant coach after coming off the court in the Senior Night win. PHOTO/Jeremy McDonald.
McNary flexed its Senior Night muscle Friday night against South Salem, keeping their slight 6A postseason hopes alive as they await to see if they’ll sneak into the Field of 32 on Saturday.
But, as they sat at 34 entering the game against the Saxons, they fell flat to start the game. Falling behind 21-12 in the second quarter in their 58-47 win in their regular season finale.
Then, something clicked. Their defense settled in; they weren’t forcing shots. Those eventually landed. And that spark grew into a slight flame to help turn the deficit into a 32-25 lead by the 6:10 mark of the third quarter.
“I thought our shot selection was a little rushed early on. We really didn’t have a chance to distort the defense a little bit. It’s not the type of shot, it’s we want to make the defense go around and I thought we did a really good job. I thought once Jando (Gonzalez) got into the game and was able to defend (South Salem’s Greg) Comer, that was a big thing for us,” Head Coach Ryan Kirch said. “I thought we rebounded well and really kept them down to minimize their second-chance shots and our defense really created some shots for us. We got some baskets in transition and really got up-and-down the floor.”
Gonzalez has been battling a bruised quadricep muscle and has been slowly working his way back. The junior led McNary with 19 points over the final three quarters of play as he battled through the stiffness that had him at about a six-out of 10 on this evening Kirch points. But the McNary head coach is expecting some big things out of him entering his senior year.
“He was about a six-out-of-10 from what he told me tonight, but we asked him to go in and guard the best player the whole time. He shot the ball well tonight, he competes. He’s really, really, really tough,” Kirch said of Gonzalez. “As we say goodbye to our seniors this year, his role is going to have to be bigger. We’re going to have to ask more of him, but he certainly does a good job and is a heck of a competitor and is really, really tough.”
South Salem drew them back in, to 33-30, but the Celtics went on another run. This time of the 12-5 variety to rebuild their lead going into the fourth up 45-35. It was the last time that the margin of the game was as close to the one possession margin as the Celtics sustained their mojo for the final eight minutes.
Making sure that they did all they could to make their case to sneak into the postseason sitting on the outside looking in.
“We called a timeout mid-way through the third and they made a little bit of a run, got it down to five or so. They’re scrappy, they do a lot of things and they’re going to cause some mistakes as they did,” Kirsch said. “I thought we did an ok job regrouping, weathering the storm and really defending.”
Brody Roth scored 12 points and Tyler Copeland added another seven in the win for McNary. The Celtics finish the regular season 10-14 and 5-9 in Mountain Valley Conference-play.