Lady Celts can’t pass final test from Titans

McNary girls basketball has accomplished a lot this season. With new head coach Mike McShane at the helm, the Lady Celts went from the bottom of the Central Valley Conference with a fifth place finish in 2022 to second place in 2023.

But there has been one obstacle they just haven’t been able to topple this season — the West Salem Titans.

Like the video game big boss, the Titans (18-5, 11-0) have stood at the gates, blocking advancement to that next level. And with each defeat, the Lady Celts (16-8, 8-3) have retreated, regathered and returned to their regular season quest, powering up for their next shot at the Titans.

Tuesday night was the final attempt on the books, though a postseason meeting is possible. And, with a packed and energetic gym on Senior Night, things ended just as they had in the previous two matchups, this time a 70-33 win for the Titans.

“I’m proud of our girls because we competed, we fought until the end, but we ran up against a very good team,” McShane said. “I think West Salem is a top-10 team in the state, and when they’re healthy and playing their best basketball they have the potential to be a top-five team in the state. That’s where we’re trying to get.”

West Salem’s success this season isn’t surprising anyone. OSAA-ranked No. 11 at time of press, they returned last season’s Central Valley Conference Player of the Year senior Elizabeth Bennett, and were the clear favorite at the top of the CVC with a core group that has come up together, many playing year-round, according to McShane.

And McShane seems to be motivated by that. He sees West Salem’s success and hopes to duplicate their big picture approach in the offseason.

“The big picture can motivate us as a program,” McShane said. “And even the girls that are underclassmen swinging up from JV, this is an opportunity to look at where we want to go as a program and what it takes in the offseason.”

Friday may have been the first time West Salem had been fully healthy this season, and their length and athleticism were on display, hounding McNary the length of the court.

The Lady Celts struggled advancing the ball against the press, and when they did, most of their shots were contested.

“We were a little loose with the ball early, and of course that’s what West Salem feeds on,” McShane said. “It’s hard to duplicate their length and talent in practice. I need to do a better job of preparing our girls for that.”

But the preparation now moves to Friday’s regular season finale at South Salem before the OSAA State Championship Playoffs tip-off on March 2.

While Friday’s game won’t have an impact on the CVC standings, it could help shape postseason seeding. McNary is ranked No. 20 at time of press, which would currently match them up with No. 13 Jefferson High School in Portland.