By Jeremy McDonald
SALEM, Ore.– The little 3A School roughly 12 miles north of McKay High School surely found a way to get things done in the back-end of their Summer Basketball Doubleheader Wednesday evening.
Though they were facing the junior varsity squads of Sprague and McNary that had a few Varsity swingers on their teams Wednesday, the challenges of the 3A squad facing two 6A, Greater Valley Conference team will show them how to play to their level when they face the Blanchet Catholtics, the Salem Academy’s of the PacWest Conference here in a few months when basketball season really begins.
And, as they went to the upper gym following their 59-47 loss to the Olympians, they came out swinging as they did against the Cavailers at the end of the regular season with Pedro Villegas putting the team on his shoulders early as they built s 13-7 lead.
“I think you got to play your hardest, if your teammates see you playing tough, they want to play tough too,” Villegas, who had eight points by the midway of the first half. “If they see the negativity with you, they’ll see that with and, ‘oh bro we don’t got this’ and you got to play and finish the baskets.”
Slowly, the Celtics rallied and took a two-point lead into the halftime break before McNary extended that lead to roughly five-, six-points.
At this point typically, the old Cougars would just call it a day, but Gervais learned quickly of the ways of the 6A GVC playing style by matching the physicality of the Celts as they turned the defict into a 36-31 lead moments later.
It looked like the St. Paul game at St. Paul last year for the Cougars as they went back-and-forth with McNary, but with four seconds left in the game, the Celtics tipped the ball in for a 51-50 lead with Gervais’ Head Coach Ben Schultz called time.
He designed a pick-and-roll play with Elvis Vallejo, where Vallejo picked the ball up at near mid-court and drove to the hoop after receiving the pick-play.
It all worked to perfection as soon as Vallejo touched the ball, the pick was set and all it was for Vallejo was daylight as the Celts parted like the Red Sea, allowing Vallejo to lay it in at the buzzer for the 52-51 victory as they found a way to out-muscle a tough team in front of them.
“I just saw…wide open, the other team was focused on the other teammates on my team so I thought I go through and take a shot,” said Vallejo on the winning shot as the junior was mobbed by his teammates following the shot.
“It’s really good because 6A, they’re very physical, they have more students, it’s really great,” adds Vallejo.
Schultz loved how his team responded and stepped up to the challenged that Wednesday night threw their way.
“I think they held their own and this is only going to make us better,” said Schultz. “Once we get into league, you know we’re playing great competition. I think the guys step up, I think this second game we got a little bit mad because, ‘oh man I got to take this to the rack’, and they did.
“And Pedro Villegas is great, he needs to calm down a little bit. Keep his head on himself and other than that he did great. Elvis stepped up and the younger guys played well, I mean Noel is picking off some passes and Daniel (Hernandez) did some great job up front, so every game, as long as we mature, then that’s what summer league is about. Getting better, constantly getting better.”
And yeah, it maybe JV, there maybe a few Varsity guys who came down, but Schultz adds too that these two games; making a 10-3 deficit to 10-9 against Sprague and battling McNary to the last second, will help them for the rest of the summer and entering the season in November.
“It’s going to help tremendously because we’re going to have that confidence to say, ‘hey I went out there against a 6A team and we beat them’,” said Schultz.
“And it doesn’t matter if JV or not, they mixed their teams, it’s a hodgepodge of teams that you play again. It just builds confidence and it gets them better and I told them in the beginning, it doesn’t matter if we win or lose, yeah we want to win, but it’s about getting better as the summer progresses individually and as a team.”