By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
The Lady Celts began their first round state playoff game with a 13-6 lead, but a scoring drought in the fourth quarter led to a 56-43 loss to Clackamas High School in girls varsity basketball.
“We were up five at halftime and were able to stretch it to nine in the third quarter. Starting the fourth quarter we had a five-point lead,” said Derick Handley, McNary head coach. “It was a 2 to 6 point game for most of the fourth quarter, but when we had to start fouling they made their free throws.”
The loss ended the girls season, but Handley said the confidence the team entered the game with wavered in the final four minutes, giving the Cavaliers the victory and an advance to the second round.
While the game didn’t fall in favor of the Celts, there were many good things happening for McNary in the early going. Sophomore Sydeny Hunter had 12 points by the half and finished the game with 16. Junior Madi Hingston wasn’t far behind with 14 points.
“Lauren Hudgins did an amazing job on the Clackamas post, Peyton Carroll. She was their leading scorer this season, and Lauren held her to 9 points, most of which were free throws at the end of the game,” Handley said.
Handley, a first-year head coach of the program, was most disappointed that the season closed just as the McNary girls were reaching their full potential. He is the third head coach of the program in four years.
“They’ve bought in, and there is a lot of confidence in this group moving forward that we can be a competitive team at the state level. For the coaches, we really had the challenge of getting each girl to fully understand their role on the team. For several girls, like Kaelie Flores and Madi Hingston, we changed their role from what they were used to in years past. Without Reina Strand, we needed both of those girls to become scoring threats, and they definitely did that for us,” Handley said.
Strand has been sidelined with injury since last summer and was a powerful presence for McNary as a freshman and sophomore.
The team had a more-than-rocky beginning. The season started with four losses, the last one to West Albany High School, which moved up to the 6A Greater Valley Conference this year. Since then, the team had six-win and four-win streaks in conference competition to finish third in the GVC. The team’s four losses were to eventual league champs South Salem High School and second place West Albany.
Handley said losing the team’s three seniors is likely to be a blow next season.
“Jasmine Ernest has developed into a floor general and a great defender. Emma Jones was one of the hardest, if not the hardest working players I’ve ever had the opportunity to coach. And Lauren was really starting to find her groove again after sitting out as a junior. We’ll definitely miss her size,” he said.
While those key roles will be vacated, the long win streaks allowed most of the up-and-comers ample time on the court. Not to mention, the team’s leading scorers – Hingston, Hunter, Flores and Kailey Doutt – will all return.
“It’s going to be a tough decision on what our line-up will look like next season with a lot of young players like Kailey, Jaylene Montano and Paige Downer competing for starting spots and more time. We should also have some really good current eighth graders who will come in next year as freshmen and compete for playing time,” Handley said.
The team’s strength throughout the season was its ability to absolutely shut down another team on defense. The girls had four games – albeit against a few of the more struggling teams -– when they allowed 15 points or less. Handley will be looking closely at who can become the team’s “shut down defender,” a la Ernest or Jones.
If there’s was one aspect he hopes the girls will latch onto, it’s the importance of being consistent in practice and during games.
“We want everyone to go 100 percent in each rep. This year, that didn’t always happen and we developed some bad habits.”
I’m hoping our players will remember the feeling going into next season, and will do whatever necessary to make sure we don’t ‘lose’ games. It’s okay to be beat by a team that is better, but I don’t want our girls to accept giving away games with unforced mental and physical mistakes,” Handley said.