By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
Prior to the Celtic boys varsity basketball game with South Salem High School Tuesday, Jan. 14, few would have picked the Keizer team for a win against the then sixth-ranked Saxons.
Fewer would have expected South to barely eke out a 67-63 victory.
“But we would have,” said Braden Taylor, a Celt senior shooting guard. “We really shared the ball and everyone was contributing.”
The Saxons started out with a lead after the first frame, but McNary High School cut it to one by halftime.
“Johnathan (Doutt) got into a good rhythm early in the game and that helped us stay steady through the first half,” said Ryan Kirch, McNary head coach. “It was a great high school basketball game. They just made one or two more plays.”
After falling behind by 11 points in the third quarter, McNary made a run in the fourth to cinch up the score.
“We had the ball in our hands with 35 seconds left in the game, but then the ball got deflected from us. We’re still proud of how hard our kids played and competed,” Kirch said.
Senior Connor Goff said many on the team would have paid almost any price for a few more seconds on the clock.
“We were ready to come out hot. It was definitely one where we ran out of time and started playing a little too hurried, a little careless. Then it fell apart,” Goff said.
Doutt led Celtic scoring with 24 points, Tregg Peterson had 14, Taylor had 11, Hayden McCowan had six, Goff put in four and Devon Dunagan and Hayden Gosling had two each.
The Celts faced North Salem High School for their second Central Valley Conference game Friday, Jan. 17. McNary took a 63-54 loss after a barnstorming first half.
Taylor provided man-to-man cover on the Vikings top scorer, Malik Leaks, for much of the night, and the Celts held him to eight points. McNary was less prepared for Leaks’ back-up Caleb Roberts who scored 24 points in the game.
The Celts had as much as a seven point lead in the first quarter and extended it to nine by halftime.
“Once we shut down Malik, we might have thought we had it in the bag a little,” Taylor said. “But they came out in the second half and made adjustments, we didn’t.”
Goff said overconfidence in the lead led to a more “lackadaisical” approach in the third quarter when Leaks was on the bench with an injury. The teams were knotted 39-39 at the third quarter buzzer and a 24-point fourth frame for the Vikings drove a nail in the Celtics’ coffin.
“We played more timidly in the second half and reverted to some old habits that I thought we were past,” Kirch said. “We just weren’t physically and mentally tough enough to withstand the run they made on us.”
Doutt led the team with 17 points, Dunagan had 11, Peterson and Taylor put in nine each, Trent Van Cleave had four, and Goff and Hayden Gosling chipped in two apiece.
Kirch said the first order of business moving forward is making sure the team can find a way out when its back is against a wall.
“We’re still trying to figure out how to respond. We have to respond as a group and not individually. I’m excited to see how we come out of it,” he said.
After a game with Sprague High School, McNary travels to meet McKay High School Friday, Jan. 24. The contest promises to be a fierce one with two former Celtics, Brandon Lao and Isaiah Montano, now playing for the Royal Scots. McKay also had a tight game with South last week.
“It’s definitely one we want to win,” Taylor said.