Early in the second quarter Friday night, the Lady Celts took control and didn’t look back.
Riding the wave of a 16-4 run, they left North Salem behind in an eventual 53-41 win.
The run erased an otherwise forgettable shooting night for McNary (16-7, 8-2). They were 11-for-20 in the first half, but shot just 8-for-28 in the second.
“We played with speed, we played with pace and we played in the open court, and we did a better job of finishing,” said McNary head coach Mike McShane about the second quarter run. “We missed a lot of layups tonight and there were quite a few times we didn’t take care of the ball like we can. That was one of those stretches where we did take care of the ball, finished around the basket and made good decisions.”
And while that stretch in the second quarter helped them get out in front, it was the defense that kept them there.
McNary had 14 steals, led by Avery Buss with five. Buss also had a team high 12 points and seven assists, along with four rebounds.
Her backcourt mates, KJ Custer and Ava Rubio, both had 10 points, and three and two steals respectively.
The McNary press in the first half stifled the larger, more physical North Salem (3-19, 0-11) attack, and when the Vikings were able to make runs in the second half, getting within five, McNary responded.
“Our girls did a good job when North Salem went on their runs of not panicking, staying calm, and sticking to the game plan and executing,” McShane said.
McNary committed seven fouls in the third quarter, but North Salem wasn’t able to take advantage once in the penalty, only getting to the line four times.
And while McShane has been happy at times this season with aggressive fouls from his team, that wasn’t the case Friday with what he saw as reactionary play.
“We weren’t anticipating the way that we can,” McShane said. “We could have done a little bit better job just taking care of the things we’re in control of. Tonight, when we needed it we did it, but we weren’t as consistent, and that lent itself to some of those fouls that weren’t necessary.”
It’s something that will have to be cleaned up with two games remaining in the regular season and the postseason on the horizon.
Friday’s win clinched second place in the Central Valley Conference for the McNary. A leap up from the fifth place finish last season.
But the work isn’t done, and McShane knows what is needed going forward.
“We’ve got to keep raising our level of intensity up in practice, and that takes leadership,” McShane said.
They have the leadership of their experienced back court. Custer and Rubio are both seniors, Buss a junior.
And they have the experience of going up against a top team, and a looming rematch with them in current OSAA-ranked No. 11 West Salem.
In the last meeting between the two, McNary led by nine in the second half before West Salem came back and won 68-63.
“That was a really good game for us, and it was a really good game for our program and our community,” McShane said. “We came up a little bit short, West Salem is the best team in our league and they’re one of the top teams in the state. We’re trying to get where they’re at. We have a lot of respect for them, and we know that in order to do what we did last time we need to be ready to go.”
And while Tuesday’s meeting, the final home game of the season for McNary, won’t have any impact on the league standings, it’s a big test for McShane and the Lady Celts heading into the postseason.
“It’s going to be a battle, they’re not going to go away quietly,” McShane said. “We’re going to have to come out and go possession by possession like the last time we played them and put ourselves in a position at the end to compete and hopefully like we did last time put ourselves in a position to be there in the end to win.”