The 2023 season hasn’t been easy for McNary baseball. They’ve had to deal with weather (as most teams have) and injuries. They had to figure out how to keep their heads in the season amidst a nine- game losing streak.
And, as the seasons shift and literal clouds clear, the clouds that hung over the Celtics’ season have begun to fade.
Even though Tuesday’s 6-4 loss at home against Sprague didn’t end in the win column, there was plenty of positives to take away from it.
Junior Carter Hawley put up his second good start from the mound in a row for McNary after missing the first two months of the season.
“We couldn’t have asked anything more. More than anything we’re just super happy that Carter can play again because he’s literally been out for almost a year and had to go through two surgeries,” McNary head coach Larry Keeker said. “So the mental process that he’s going through and the disappointment along the way, missing basketball season, it was actually an emotional return for everybody.”
Hawley made his season debut against West Salem on May 3, a 6-3 win for McNary. And that West Salem series was the turning point the Celts’ season hit.
They swept the Titans in the three-game series, snapping a nine- game losing streak and more than doubling their season win total.
“Your confidence is tested, your chemistry is tested and sticking together was really, really important for us,” Keeker said. “And when we started to get a little more healthy during that series, that certainly helped from a baseball standpoint. But I’m going to give the players credit, we just kind of hung in there, continued to look forward, and when you win a baseball game, it kind of rejuvenates your spirits.”
The West Salem sweep not only snapped the losing streak, but it ensured McNary a place in the postseason, with only four teams in the Central Valley Conference and the top three automatically making the playoffs.
Hawley isn’t the only key piece of the Celtics lineup that has returned in recent weeks.
Junior shortstop Trevor Ratliff returned a few weeks ago fol- lowing hand surgery. When he first returned, Ratliff wasn’t able to swing a bat, but his defensive prowess gave Keeker a reason to try and hide him at the bottom of the order for a bunt attempt. But now, Ratliff is nearing 100% and able to swing.
Not at 100% but still also back in the lineup for Keeker are juniors Ben and Jake Allen. Ben is the Celtics starting catcher, and while he can’t run 100% yet, Keeker said having him behind the plate “makes a big difference.”
Meanwhile Jake is coming off a fracture in his fingertip that keeps him from properly gripping the ball, and will likely keep him off the mound this season.
“But we still have him in the outfield, he’s a good outfielder. And we have him at the plate, he’s a good hitter, so that certainly helps us,” Keeker said.
McNary has two more games with Sprague this week, at Sprague on Wednesday and at McNary on Friday. Both games are scheduled for 5 p.m.