By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
As the start of Central Valley Conference play looms, the McNary High School boys varsity basketball team is building momentum at precisely the right time.
The Celtics have picked up four wins in their last five games and put its full starting line-up on the court for the first time Jan. 3 in a 47-33 win over Franklin High School.
“I think the biggest thing that’s happened is we got healthy,” said Ryan Kirch, McNary head coach. “For the first couple of weeks we were missing two starters (Tregg Peterson and Devon Dunagan), but they’ve come back and the boys are sharing the ball well and generally improving as a group.”
Peterson was battling illness while Dunagan was healing a broken ankle in the early games of the preseason. It left the team without its tallest player, Dunagan, and looking outmatched against teams putting players 6-foot-4 and taller on the court.
But, up against a 6-foot-8 player on the Franklin roster, and with Dunagan back on the court, Kirch said the teams looked evenly matched. McNary took a 16-9 lead in the first quarter and squelched Franklin on offense as they rode to the win.
“We were able to work a game plan, keep them off the boards and we didn’t look small by comparison,” Kirch said.
The Keizer team faced off with Springfield High School Jan. 2 and fell 54-35, but Kirch said the game was a disappointment compared to the its performances in the Les Schwab Invitational a week prior.
“It was one where we let ourselves down, but the guys are getting it. They just have to be consistent,” Kirch said.
McNary won the invitational in Coos Bay with game wins over North Eugene (77-55), North Bend (56-54) and Coquille (57-50) high schools. While the teams came from divisions smaller than the Celts, every team was looking for a fight, said Johnathan Doutt, a McNary senior.
“We had to take them as seriously as we would any other opponents,” he said.
Doutt played a key role in the Celtic win over North Bend in overtime. With about five seconds left in regulation play, Doutt hit a fading three-pointer from the corner to send the game into overtime.
As the first overtime was winding down he hit another tres that gave McNary a two-point lead.
“I was already jogging back to play defense thinking we were headed into another overtime, but Trent Van Cleave got a steal and then dribbled the ball between three players before tossing it straight up to end the game,” Doutt said. “It was the most exciting game I’ve been a part of on any team.”
That excitement is contagious, said Peterson.
“We have a great feel right now. We’re rotating guys in easily and we’re playing more as a team. Even though I was on the bench most of last season, I didn’t get the same feeling as I get from this team,” Peterson said. “We have a better mental attitude and we come in more focused.”
While Kirch would have preferred to have started the season with a 100-percent healthy team, he said the time on the court with several players in different roles is paying dividends now.
“We got some time to develop depth that we wouldn’t have had. We’ve won some tough, ugly, close games that we wouldn’t have won last year and that’s been awesome,” Kirch said.