By Jeremy McDonald
SALEM, Ore.– It took until the final minute of the first half for the South Salem Girls Basketball team to come around in their 45-42 win over McNary. Or it seemed.
Faced with the adversity of the Celtics playing in their final game of the season, the Saxons had found themselves down 15-14 with 1:08 left in the opening half before using an 8-0 run to close out the opening half. Swinging momentum seemingly into their favor going into the second half.
“We just needed energy off the bench. It was hard, but we all came through and we all worked together,” said South Salem’s Maddie Dustin. “Just coming out with more energy for sure. We come out slow and largethic and we don’t really do what we really need to, we step it up and we’re already at that point close. So I feel like we need to play a full-game instead of working hard for half the time.”
Their seven-point lead remained into the third quarter, leading as much as 27-20 but were quickly crept on by McNary. The Celts, thanks to a 9-2 run, had tied the game up thanks to a Avery Buss three with 2:08 left in the third quarter. The Saxons would go into the fourth quarter leading by two, 31-29, thanks to a Dustin shot in the closing minute of the third quarter.
South Salem couldn’t shake McNary as with 37.3 left they only led 42-40. The Celtics knew that this game was more than likely their last for the season, so they were going to give South Salem hell as the Saxons are play-off bound beyond Thursday’s regular season and Mountain Valley Conference finale.
“I think it was really the last game that really pushed us towards it. But I felt like we did really well in that game. Our offense, we were in it the whole game,” McNary’s Ava Rubio said. “I’m really impressed with how well we played. I thought it was really good to get that last game, it was good. It was a good way to end the season. I feel like we’re going to have a lot of the same girls here next year, so I feel like it’s going to be hard replacing those three, but we’ll make it work.”
The Celtics lose three seniors from their 8-17 overall squad this year as Buss compiled 12 points for McNary.
Dustin, who finished with 14 points in the win, hit two crucial Saxon free throws to put South ahead 44-40 with 30 seconds remaining only to see the Celts cut the deficit in half 44-42. Dustin splits her next two free throws as Kylie Nepstad’s contested three-point shot missed its mark with the Saxons recovering the rebound to hang on, finishing the regular season 18-5 overall and 12-2 in league play.
“I think it was a really good experience for us, it was a good win. It was intense at the end, but we came through and we won,” Dustin said. “It’s going to be really helpful. The last four games we’ve won the close ones and I think that’s what matters so that in the playoffs, we know that’s what we need to do and close games we know how to handle it.”
South Salem locked up the second-seed out of the conference following the win as they await Saturday’s seeding pairings to see where they are playing in the first round of the 6A Playoffs.
Photos By Jeremy McDonald