Jose Martinez rises up to get his head on the ball (KEIZERTIMES/Matt Rawlings).

In their first game in front of a limited number of fans, the McNary boys soccer team put on a show in the second half.

After falling behind 1-0 to West Salem in the first half, the Celtics rallied to score three unanswered goals in the final 40 minutes to earn the 3-2 victory over the defending league champions on Monday, March 15.

“We stayed ready at all times and were more composed in the second half,” McNary forward Eli Petilo said.

The Celtics had multiple opportunities early in the game, getting three shots-on goal in the first seven minutes of the contest. But they were turned away each time.

“Honestly, I think we dominated the whole entire game. But I think these kids got a little nervous in the first half with seeing their parents in the stands for the first time. It's the first time they have played at home with people there,” McNary head coach Miguel Camarena said.

McNary goalkeeper Emerson Carella came up with a couple of saves in the early stages, but the Titans were able to sneak one by him thanks to a fortunate bounce in the 19th minute.

West Salem's Yahir Bernal got free with a nifty spin move and fired a shot towards the net. Carella dove to his left, but the ball ricocheted off the left post right to Kaden Young, who easily scored with Carella out of position.

Carella, however, would save three more shots before the end of the half to keep the Titans from extending their lead.

Trailing by a goal going into the second half, Camarena decided to change things up from a strategy standpoint. Instead of going with their usual 2-3-2 formation, Camarena elected to push an extra player forward to help the Celtics attack.

The move paid off almost immediately.

“We had to change some things. We pushed one more center-mid so we could play with more numbers. I think that made the difference in the game,” Camarena said. “We kept the ball on the ground and started connecting. The energy was there.”

In the opening minute of the second half, Oscar Chavez got a through ball to Alexis Soto up the right sideline. Soto beat his defender, brought the keeper out of the box and then nailed his shot into the left corner of the goal to tie the game up.

“Oscar gave me a great pass on the through ball and all I had to do was just hit it in,” Soto said.

Along with pushing numbers forward, McNary was able to neutralize the West Salem attack, giving the Titans minimal scoring chances for the majority of the second half.

“The way we play the best defense is to have the ball with us. We had more possessions in the second half. We were able to contain them and be more aggressive,” Camarena said.

McNary's aggressiveness forced a hand-ball by West Salem in the 57th minute, giving Eddie Martinez a chance to score via penalty kick. Martinez went top shelf on the West Salem keeper for the score to give the Celtics their first lead of the contest.

Ten minutes later, McNary got a key insurance goal to take a two-score lead.

After a corner kick from Soto soared over the box, Johann Singh Sanchez retrieved the ball and crossed it back to the middle of the field. Petilo fought for position in the box and got a header into the back of the net for the score.

“The day before at practice we worked on crosses and finishing. That's always been a key point. It's always about staying ready and preparing for the ball to come your way,” Petilo said.

West Salem got back on the board in the 53rd minute when Jose Ruelas connected on a perfectly-placed free-kick from 40 yards away. But the Titans frantic attempts to tie the game in the final seven minutes were unsuccessful.

McNary takes the field again at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 18 at North Salem.

Matt Rawlings: [email protected]