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The Vikings lead by as many as 10 in the fourth quarter before the Celtics surge to victory.

PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Forest Grove's Braden Hudgins dribbles around a McNary defender during the Vikings' game with the Celtics Friday, Jan. 10, at Forest Grove High School.Moral victories are typically not awesome. But after losing three straight and staring into the eyes of a team that just two weeks ago beat Forest Grove by 21 points — on this night it'll just have to do.

The Viking boys fought all night, led for much of it, and even had a chance to win the game late, but a couple missed opportunities, a couple more mishaps, and couple few too many McNary 3-pointers ultimately left Forest Grove on the wrong end of a 58-57 game with the Celtics Friday night, Jan. 10, at Forest Grove High School.

"I just feel so bad for the kids," Forest Grove head coach Greg Evers said. "They played their butts off."

And they did.

After trailing 12-9 after a quarter and by as many as five in the second, the Vikings took their first lead on a Braden Hudgins three a couple minutes into the second stanza, and held it until junior standout Nate Meithof tied the game with a free throw with 40 seconds remaining, then gave the Celtics the lead 37 seconds later on the second of two free throws for what would turn out to be the game winner.

PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Forest Grove's James Irvine goes up for a shot amidst a sea of McNary defenders during the Vikings' game with the Celtics Friday, Jan. 10, at Forest Grove High School.Meithof finished with 18 points, but was bottled up for most of the game before scoring nine fourth quarter points, including seven of the Celtics' final 13.

With the game tied 57-57, Forest Grove (5-7) appeared poised to take the last shot. But when Braden Hudgins' 3-pointer missed and caromed into the hands of Meithof with 8 seconds remaining, the 6-foot-4 athletic wing darted the length of the floor before being fouled on his approach to the basket, sending the junior to the line with 3 seconds on the clock.

After Meithof made the second of his two attempts, the Vikings inbounded to midcourt and called timeout with 1.8 seconds left. From there they tried a lob under the basket to a cutting Guy Littlefield, but the pass was off the mark and as the ball sailed away, so too did Forest Grove's hope of an upset.

"Some things you just can't control," Forest Grove post James Irvine said. "I felt like we played great, but it just didn't work out."

Irvine finished with 17 points and eight rebounds, and despite being undersized in the paint, wreaked havoc on the Celtics from the tip.

"James did a really nice job," Evers said. "He's a big strong kid who jumps fairly well, so even for being undersized he's always going to cause people problems."

PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Forest Grove's Ryan Kribs dribbles the baseline during the Vikings' game with the McNary Friday, Jan. 10, at Forest Grove High School.And he wasn't the only one. Hudgins too — at 6-foot-5 — was tough for the visiting Celts to handle, scoring 12 first half points and finishing with 21. He and Irvine scored 14 of the Vikings' 26 second quarter points, and the first four of the second half to put Forest Grove up eight, 39-31. They stretched it to 10 when Littlefield made two free throws, but McNary (7-3) wouldn't go away, pulling within four on back-to-back threes by Kyler Rodriguez and Tyler Copeland.

"They've got some weapons and can score points in a hurry," Evers said. "We knew that from the last time we played them."

Forest Grove scored the last four points of the third, and when Littlefield opened the fourth with a bucket, the Vikings again led by 10 and appeared to be putting the Celts away. But this time it was Meithof who stepped up, scoring seven straight, and when Jaime Ochoa connected from distance and his teammate, Jando Gonzalez followed suit, McNary was within one, setting the stage for Meithof's heroics in the final minute.

"It's too bad, and obviously we wanted to win, but I feel like we're starting to connect," Irvine said. "Early in the year something just wasn't clicking right, but we've had some meetings and we're bonding with each other. I think we're ready for league."

PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Forest Grove's Guy LIttlefield attacks the basket during the Vikings' game with the McNary Friday, Jan. 10, at Forest Grove High School.And Evers agreed. With the nonconference schedule now coming to an end and the league opener right around the corner, the coach said it's going to be about effort for the Viks going forward.

"We told the kids coming into the week that these were going to be two tough games," the coach said. "But we told them that while they're important to us, these are still the homework while next week is the test. They've just got to continue to play hard, and as long as we do that, we can live with the result."

In addition to Hudgins and Irvine, Littlefield had 11 points, Ayden Case and Roman Miller had three apiece, and Zach Burke added two.

Meithof's 18 led the way for McNary, while Gonzalez added nine, Rodriguez eight, and Junior Nunez seven.

Forest Grove will travel to Glencoe for their Pacific Conference opener at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 15, at Glencoe High School.

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