Celtics avenge early season loss to Saxons with 72-57 win

Some extra motivation can be nice sometimes. And it would appear that that’s exactly what McNary boys basketball had heading into Friday’s matchup with South Salem. 

It was the second time they had met this season. The first, a 60-59 Saxons win at South Salem.

“We’ve had a really good rivalry with them over the years, really really competitive games and physical games,” McNary head coach Ryan Kirch said. “Anytime you lose to anybody, doesn’t matter who it is, you want to come out and respond.”

And respond they did.

Riding a 13-3 run to close out the third quarter, the Celtics (13-6, 5-2) avenged the Jan. 16 loss to the Saxons (5-14, 2-5) with a 72-57 win.

It was the most points they had scored since early December, and the most from any team in a Central Valley Conference league game this season. 

But the second half run was needed. They led by three at half, one after a pair of free throws to start the third quarter after a technical foul on Kirch at the end of the first half. 

South Salem was able to take a brief one-point lead on a pair of free throws midway through the third. But the lead change sparked the 13-3 run for McNary to take back the lead and control of the game.

“These guys play a lot of games, and every game in our league has been like this,” Kirch said. “We know that, we know it’s going to be like that. There’s a sense of calm. We space the floor a little bit. With some of their lineups we thought we could get by some people a little bit, and we were able to do that and get some easy looks. You see the ball go in one or two times, it just breeds confidence.”

They shot 14-for-22 from the floor in the second half, with the majority of their looks coming from in close, with  22 assists as a team on 26 made field goals.

And as the Saxons tried to press, a tactic the Celtics have used for most of the season, the lead only grew.

“We’re not trying to just break it,” Kirch said. “If you’re going to press us we’re going to score, and I thought we were able to do that.”

The press only led to one turnover from McNary, and a handful of clean looks at the hoop.

Three Celtics were in double-figures scoring, and all eight that saw the floor scored.

“You’ve got four guys who average between 8.5 and 15, it’s really hard to choose who you’re going to guard,” Kirch said. “And when our guys recognize who’s got the advantage and get it to that guy and trust that he’ll get it back to us, I feel like we’re really coming together.”

Sophomore guard Steven Adams led the team with 18 points. Adams also had seven assists and a pair of rebounds. 

The Saxon defense seemed to focus on McNary’s leading scorer, senior wing Brody Roth, as many teams have in the second half of the year. And while they held Roth to four points on 2-for-6 shooting in the first half, they couldn’t contain him.

Roth finished with 16 points, hitting all four second half attempts from the floor as well as two free throws. 

South Salem freshman Teagan Scott led all scorers with 22 points after scoring just six points in the first meeting this season.

“We know he’s tough and he’s a load,” Kirch said. “In the first game he didn’t play as much, for whatever reason. To me he’s as good a player as they have. Three other guys hurt us last game and we wanted to focus on those three tonight. He’s a tough, strong kid. Really impressive, gets to the rim hard, just a great competitor. He hates losing. Really admire the way he plays. He kept them in the game.”

Kirch had praise for the talent and strength across the South Salem roster. 

“Individually they are incredibly talented, I think they’re as talented as anybody in the league,” Kirch said. “Just collectively, for whatever reason, they struggle playing together.”

The two teams will meet one more time, in the final game of the season on Feb. 24, at South Salem.