McNary forward Johann Singh Sanchez attempts to dribble around a Bend defender (KEIZERTIMES/Matt Rawlings).

With their playoff chances on the line, the McNary boys' soccer squad earned a much-needed victory against Bend, defeating the Lava Bears 4-1 on Friday, Oct. 15.

Axel Zapien led the Celtics with a pair of goals in the first half.

“We knew we had to win this one. We finished well, which we have lacked at times,” McNary head coach Miguel Camarena said. “We are happy to see that result.”

The McNary forwards played with a sense of urgency from the opening kick, and it showed nearly right away. In the fourth minute, Zapien sprinted back past the entire back line on a through ball from Max Baez, and the senior forward placed a shot inside the corner of the post for the score, giving McNary the 1-0 advantage.

“We were really aggressive today,” Zapien said.

Zapien came through with his second score in the 26th minute to put the Celtics up 2-0. After a throw-in, McNary forward Hudson Brunk volleyed a ball over to Zapien, who controlled it off the bounce and fired a shot with his right foot into the net for the goal.

“The way our wings penetrated today was the difference,” Camarena said.

Bend had a pair of opportunities to score early, but both shot attempts were stopped by senior goalkeeper Tayson Whetten.

McNary has had some goalkeeping issues throughout the season, but Camarena says that Whetten has shown continuous improvement over the last several games and is playing the best he has played all year.

“Every game he's been getting more confidence. He is gaining his teammates' trust and improving his technique. I think that was his best game so far,” Camarena said.

In the 38th minute, Bend got another great look when Lava Bears forward Jack Selman had a free run at the net after winning a ball in the midfield. Whetten played the situation assertively, coming out of the box and sliding towards the ball as Selman was taking the shot. Whetten made contact with the ball on the slide after the shot attempt, significantly slowing it down so that McNary defender Aldair Cruz Barocio could clear the ball before it crossed the goal line.

The stop helped the Celtics remain up 2-0 going into the break.

“Over the season, I feel like I have gotten better at communicating and just being able to make more saves,” Whetten said.

McNary continued to build on their lead in the second half. In the 49th minute, after a collision in the box put the opposing keeper on the ground, Celtics midfielder Johann Singh Sanchez took advantage of the empty net to score an easy goal.

Celtics forward Jorge Ruiz got in on the action four minutes later, scoring from 30 yards out on a shot that went just over the keeper's outstretched hands into the back of the net, giving McNary the 4-0 lead.

However, even with the game well in hand, the Celtics had a defensive mishap in the final minutes, allowing Bend to score on Emerson Carella, who replaced Tayson in the net late in the second half. Camarena is hoping that his team can minimize defensive lapses as they prepare for the postseason.

“I am not happy to have allowed a goal. Those are things we have to fix because one mistake could cost us,” Camarena said.

McNary will host their last game of the regular season against West Salem at 4 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 22.

Matt Rawlings: [email protected]