By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
As Central Valley Conference play kicked off Tuesday, Jan. 14, the McNary High School boys varsity basketball team found itself one of three teams in the league with 8-5 preseason records.
“South Salem (High School) is probably at the top of the heap, but for the first time in three years, I think we can honestly say that we can walk into a gym and expect to beat anybody,” said Ryan Kirch, McNary head coach. “The flip side is that the other teams can walk in and beat us.”
The Saxons currently have the best record 10-3 and a sixth place OSAA 6A ranking to go along with it. McKay High School tops the second place teams with a slightly higher RPI rating than the Celtics and North Salem rounds out the top four.
The Celts face two of those teams, South and North, this week.
“We need to keep practicing hard, I feel like we have a chance against South,” said Celt sophomore Trent Van Cleave. “As soon as we have a bit of a streak there isn’t going to be anyone to stop us.”
The Celts won two of their last three games heading into league play last week.
On Tuesday, Jan. 7, McNary took a 64-55 loss to West Albany High School in a game where the final score wasn’t the whole story.
After a slow start, the Celts made a 7-0 run in the final minutes of the first half to close the gap 31-28 before heading to the locker room.
“We run into situations where another team will take the lead at the beginning and then we have to get that back. If we just come out playing well at the start, things would go easier,” said Devon Dunagan, a McNary junior.
By the end of the third frame, McNary held a 48-42 lead, but the wheels came off in the last minutes of the game.
“They switched their defense a little bit and we didn’t adjust,” Kirch said. “We made some forced mistakes and we must have fouled six or seven possessions down at the other end.”
Dunagan led the team with 14 points, Johnathan Doutt and Tregg Peterson put in 12, Connor Goff had eight, Van Cleave had six, Braden Taylor had two and Hayden Gosling hit one from the free throw line.
While the loss was disappointing, the Keizer team didn’t stay down long.
“We’ve done a pretty good job of rebounding from the losses we’ve had,” Van Cleave said.
The following day, McNary rode an early lead to a 59-38 win over the Lebanon High School on the road.
On the heels of that win, the boys extended the streak to two with a 58-51 win over Liberty High School Friday, Jan. 10. Despite another slow start that gave Liberty a 16-12 lead in the first quarter, the Celts outscored the Falcons 19-8 in the second quarter to take a lead they never relinquished.
Doutt shot out the lights with 25 points (including three treys) on the night, Peterson had 12, Taylor had 10, Gosling put in seven, and Connor Goff and Dunagan had two points each.
“We responded well to the loss to West Albany, which is no small thing. The biggest challenge is keeping the forward momentum. I like where we’re headed now with CVC competition,” Kirch said.
Despite more preseason success than the team has experienced in years, Dunagan said the team couldn’t afford to take its foot off the gas.
“No days off, take every practice seriously and know our opponents and what they’ll try to do to us so we are as prepared as possible,” he said.