Lady Celts hold off late Saxon rally

Monday night, Jan. 16, McNary girls basketball showed they could throw a punch and take one, in a Central Valley Conference home game against South Salem.

The Lady Celts (10-4, 2-0) stormed out to a 17-point lead, but a Saxon (5-10, 1-2) assault in the second half cut it down to one in an eventual 52-45 Celtic win that was closer than the final score.

“We’re learning how to win, we’re like really learning,” head coach Mike McShane said. “And they’re learning, we’re getting better at it. That Newberg game on the road, they came back and took the lead and we responded. And then tonight stepping up and making our free throws at the end of the game. I haven’t been here the last few years, but that was a big win for our team and our program in terms of weathering the storm and sticking together.”

The Lady Celts led for nearly 29 minutes, by double-digits for 10. They were up 27-11 at halftime but opened the second half going more than four minutes scoreless.

And as McNary struggled to score, South Salem chipped away at the lead.

McShane attributed it to defensive adjustments they made, moving to more of a contain and away from their pressure. “Over-coaching” on his part, he said.

“We took the foot off the gas a little bit. We thought ‘all right, they’re not knocking down threes and they’re getting closer to the basket,’ and we got away from the gameplan a bit. We became a little more passive on defense, and that’s not how we play.”

Two 3-pointers and a pair of free-throws cut the McNary lead to eight midway through the third.

South Salem kept the pressure on in the fourth, getting it down to a one-possession game with less than two minutes to play.

Avery Anunsen hit a big and-one for the Saxons to make it 44-42 with 1:23 left to play.

Then, with 20 seconds to play, a Sadie Paterson 3-pointer made it a one-point game.

“They’re well coached, and they’ve got some good players,” McShane said. “We did a good job against Maggie [Lapray], but they had some other players that stepped up in that third and fourth quarter and made some big shots and put the pressure on us.”

But those were the last points South Salem would score as things unraveled in the final seconds.

As expected, South Salem tried to foul following the McNary inbounds. After a conference, officials called it an intentional foul, giving the Lady Celts two shots and the ball, much to the dismay of South Salem head coach Adrian Lewis.

“All that stuff evens out, and there was maybe half a dozen calls in that game that I think could have gone our way,” McShane said. “Of course that intentional foul was a big call, but over the course of the game I thought that stuff was pretty even.”

After Avery Buss knocked down a pair of free throws, South Salem again had to foul. After which Lewis was called for a technical foul, giving McNary four free throws and the ball, effectively ending the game.

On top of the South Salem comeback and being down a player to shorten rotations, McNary also had to deal with a change last week that might have thrown them off a little after the Jan. 12 game against North Salem had to be postponed as North Salem was dealing with injury and illness issues.

“It’s been kind of a weird week with North Salem canceling at the end of last week, but that’s happening to everyone across the league,” McShane said. “We want to have the mentality of anyone anytime. Our girls did a good job tonight.”

Ava Rubio led all scorers with 15, along with 5 assists and 2 steals. Buss had 10 points, 7 rebounds and 3 steals. Brookelynn Jackson had 8 points, while KJ Custer had 7 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals and 0 turnovers.