By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
The McNary High School girls varsity basketball team has more Ls than Ws headed into the first games of league play this week, but the one thing the Lady Celts aren’t making is excuses.
“It can’t become an ongoing thing that the shots won’t fall because there’s more to the game than that. There’s defense and running the plays hard, correctly and with precision,” said senior Baili Keeton. “We don’t always consider the things that coaches expect of us individually. If we focus on that the rest of it will come together.”
The Keizer team lost two of its final three games before the start of Central Valley Conference play, but it was a 39-37 loss to North Medford High School Saturday, Jan. 11, that stung the hardest.
“They beat us really bad last year (59-50),” said Ashlee Koenig, a McNary senior. “The loss this time, after knowing we were so close, was tough.”
The Lady Celts had a five-point lead after the first quarter, but a scoring drought let the the Black Tornadoes back into the game late in the second quarter. Headed into halftime, North Medford led 22-21. The teams knotted the game at 29-29 by the end of the third quarter and McNary had a three-point lead with just under two minutes to go.
The Tornadoes chipped it down to a single point with a pair of free throws after stopping the Celtics on defense, and a Medford bucket put the southern Oregon team ahead by a point.
“When we were pressing we did well, but as we backed off they caught up a little bit and that was a coaching decision. We pulled back and got stagnant,” said Paul Pickerell, McNary head coach.
Reina Strand led the team with 13 points, Madi Hingston and Kaelie Flores had seven each, Keeton had four points, and Jasmine Ernest, Koenig and Sydney Hunter chipped in two apiece.
The outcome was a sharp turn from the Celtics’ results in a game with Woodburn High School 24 hours prior. McNary won that contest 53-36.
“They flew down the court and we were matching it. We play better when the pace is really fast and they had a lot of energy in the gym,” Koenig said.
Hingston (13 points), Strand (12) and Keeton (11) all put up double-digit offensive numbers in the outing. Keeton said it was the first game of the season when everything seemed to come naturally.
“We weren’t forcing it. We ran the plays we know well and weren’t focused on the score,” she said.
Hunter put up six points for the Celtics, Flores chipped in five, Emma Jones had four and Cammie Decker had two.
Earlier in the week, the Lady Celts squared off with West Albany High School, on Jan. 7, and fell 59-41.
The Celts started CVC competition with the beasts of the league, South Salem High School, Tuesday, Jan. 14. The Saxons were already ranked the fifth-place team in Oregon’s 6A OSAA classification before the game began.
“South is a really solid team and championship. contenders. We’re going to play them hard and try to do the things we know we do well. We’re asking girls just to be competitive and compete hard,” Pickerell said.
As for the players, they weren’t looking for excuses.
“We don’t need a crowd to do well and win the game, we can pick it up for ourselves,” Koenig said. “South’s is great, but we are a good enough team to compete with them. They have a good defense. But, with the athletic ability we have in the younger girls, we should be able to match it.”