By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
From the moment the McNary High School varsity basketball team ended its run in the Central Valley Conference tournament, its path forward was a difficult one.
The Lady Celts lost the championship game with South Salem High School 62-27 Tuesday, Feb. 25. The loss gave the Keizer team a second-place seed in the playoff tournament, and it meant traveling to meet Tigard High School Tuesday, March 4.
The 19-5 Tigers hadn’t lost a game since December, and McNary couldn’t put the brakes on a 15-game winning streak. The Tigers won 49-19.
McNary couldn’t buy a basket, shooting 6 of 41 from the field. The Lady Celts earned a one-point lead in the early going, but 31 turnovers silenced the team’s offensive output and left the McNary scoreless in the second quarter.
Prior to the contest, McNary Head Coach Paul Pickerell had the Celts preparing for the Tigers’ 2-3 zone defense and full court press.
“We’ve seen that look a couple of times this season, but no one has done it as well as Tigard does,” Pickerell said.
In the game for the CVC tournament title, the Celts experienced some success early on, but the second quarter proved unmooring.
“It started out a lot more like the first time we played them, and we came out with the right energy early,” said Lady Celt Jasmine Ernest.
While the Celts ended the first frame trailing 15-10, a run on the part of the Celtic offense – including six points by Reina Strand and a game-knotting three-pointer by Sydney Hunter – tied the score 17-17.
About midway through the second quarter, the Saxons took possession of the ball for nearly two full minutes and used the opportunity to pull ahead 22-18.
“We had a great defensive stand in the first quarter, but those two minutes killed our momentum,” Pickerell said.
McNary scored only nine points from the middle of the second quarter until the final buzzer.
Hunter led the team with nine points, Strand had seven, Baili Keeton had six, Madi Hingston had two and Emma Jones had one.
While the girls’ season ended with more of a fizzle than a pop, the team will have a strong nucleus of returning players next season. Only Keeton and Ashlee Koenig will graduate in June.
“We’ll carry on our hard work and keep up our intensity. We all want that CVC championship,” said sophomore Kaelie Flores.
Pickerell said the story of the season was the girls rising through the adversity they faced early in the season.
“Some teams would have just packed it in, but they fought. We have some momentum now and a great group of youth players entering the program next year,” he said.