By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
This is how a game disintegrates.
Start with the McNary High School boys varsity basketball team squaring off with South Salem High School Friday, Jan. 31. McNary keeps pace with the Saxons in the first frame, pulling away in the final minute on a three-point shot by Johnathan Doutt. It’s a lead the Keizer team will keep for the next three minutes before the Saxons tie it 18-18 on a lay-in.
Another three-pointer will put McNary up 23-20 less than 30 seconds later and the teams start a back-and-forth battle that will knot the game at 35-35 with less than a minute to go in the half.
A Celtic loose ball rolls nearly two-thirds of the way back to the Celts’ side of the court with seconds remaining. A Saxon player grabs it and hits one from the paint to take a 37-35 lead.
“We came out and executed our gameplan pretty well. Our defense wasn’t what it needed to be, but we competed and hit our shots,” said Ryan Kirch, McNary head coach.
This close score is no small feat against the third-best team in the state according to the latest rankings, but it’s also not a huge surprise. The last time the teams met, the Celts surprised South with a much closer score than any would have anticipated. The team hasn’t let any opponent since off easy even though wins eluded them.
This time, McNary is coming off it’s first league win, a 68-54 victory over West Salem High School. The already electrifying team gave attendees in the West game one for the highlight reels as Celts Braden Taylor and Tregg Peterson pulled off an alley-oop so easily that one would have thought it was a common occurrence.
Then the third quarter with South happens. Three minutes expire and South is on a run of 11 unanswered points.
“When you turn it over to them, they’re going to capitalize. In the second half we lacked energy. We thought we could hang with them and things started spiraling out of control,” Doutt said.
As frustration grows on the Celtic side of the court, shots are hurried and players are taking anything resembling a good look because South’s run is still growing. Even the Celtic shots that look good seem to bounce off an invisible lid.
By the time Doutt draws a foul, hits two from the line and stops the hemorrhaging with 1:24 left in the third quarter, the Saxons are 28 points ahead and well on their way to a 92-57 blowout.
“Both halves were a wake-up call,” said Celt Braden Taylor. “In the first half, we learned that we can beat any team in this league and play every possession with them. In the second half, we learned what happens when we lose even a little bit of focus.”
Doutt ended the night with 20 points, Taylor had eight, Trent Van Cleave had six, Cade Goff and Tregg Peterson had five each, Hayden Gosling and Devon Dunagan put up four apiece, Austin Stone and Connor Goff had two each, and Drew McHugh hit one from the foul line.
“I was more disappointed in our response. We looked shell-shocked and scared. They were 16 of 17 and we couldn’t make a basket. I was frustrated in that, from the first game, we had been climbing as far as mental toughness and that game was a backstep,” Kirch said.
The game was a sharp turn from a mostly dominating performance against West Salem Tuesday, Jan. 28. In that contest, McNary took an early lead and only let up briefly in the second frame as the Celtics won 68-54.
“Finally,” Doutt said. “I thought we got out in transition. They’re big, but we thought we could beat them up and down the floor so that’s what we did.We also met our goal of getting in 12 assists.”
One of those assists was the aforementioned alley-oop, which brought the crowd to its feet. Kirch said the team had talked about the possibility of using Peterson’s dunking ability, but didn’t call for the play until that game.
“We hadn’t really prepared for it. I didn’t see Tregg cut for the basket, I lost him in a couple of people, but I knew it was about the time he should be there so I let it loose. I thought I threw it way too hard,” Taylor said. Peterson grabbed it in the air and slammed it home.
Doutt had a 31-point game, Dunagan and Van Cleave had 11 each, Peterson had nine and Taylor had eight.
“For the most part we executed as perfectly as we could and controlled the game the entire time. They were bigger than us, but we were able to spread the field, then get to the free throw line late in the game and put it away,” Kirch said.
While many were disappointed in the second half of the South game, Taylor said not to count the Celtics out just yet.
“Right now we’re focused on the games ahead, and hoping to get the chance to face South again in the CVC tournament,” he said.