By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
They say it’s hard to beat a team three times in a season, but that wasn’t the case for the McKay High School boys varsity basketball team Friday, Feb. 21.
The Royal Scots notched their third victory over the McNary High School Celtics this season with a 52-45 win.
“We had pretty good game plan, but they just seem to have our number every time,” said McNary sophomore Trent Van Cleave.
In the early going, McNary held slim leads and left the first frame with a 10-9 lead. In the waning seconds of the second quarter, McKay’s Isaiah Montano hit a two-pointer to put the Salem team up 20-18, but Celt Johnathan Doutt drove all the way back down the court to lay in the tying shot as the buzzer sounded.
“It’s almost like a chess match a little bit,” said Ryan Kirch, McNary head coach. “We were missing shots we were used to getting, but our boys were executing almost perfectly. ”
McKay went on a 12-2 run to open the third quarter and McNary didn’t find sure footing on offense until the final two minutes of the quarter. As the fourth quarter began, McNary cut the deficit to 36-32 on a shot by junior Devon Dunagan who also drew a foul. Dunagan hit one of two and cinched the score to 36-33, but it was the closest McNary would get.
“Defensively we weren’t executing like we should have. We switched up our defense three times, but we couldn’t find anything that put us into a rhythm,” Dunagan said.
The Celts also appeared unable to buy a three-point shot. After many attempts by several players, junior Tregg Peterson was the only one to put one in outside the circle, and it came in the final minute of the game.
Dunagan led scoring with 17 points, Peterson had 14, Doutt had eight, Braden Taylor had four and Van Cleave had two.
The loss meant the Celtics would play for third place in the Central Valley Conference tournament against West Salem High School Wednesday, Feb. 26, past press time. The winner of that game earned a bye in the play-in round of the state tournament, but a loss for McNary meant hosting a play-in Saturday, March 1.
For McNary, a win in its final game of the tournament held two big payoffs: avoiding a play-in for the the first time in years and the guarantee of its first winning season since Kirch took over the program three years ago.
“West played us really well last time and we lost our composure. They made some good adjustments last time and we’ll have to counter those, but the big thing is staying in it and staying focused,” Kirch said. “These are the sort of games you have to will yourself to win.”
Regardless of the outcome, Dunagan said the change in the program has been one long in the making, but it’s felt throughout the team.
“This year we have eight players who all have really bought in and we’re going the way we need to go to be a top-ranked team every season,” Dunagan said.
Prior to the game with McKay, the Celtics beat Sprague High School 54-42 to advance to the second round of the CVC tournament. The Celts, with a 10-point lead going into halftime, managed to hang on for the win despite the Olys outscoring them 12-6 in the fourth frame.
“We stopped their big guy and then we shut the rest of their shooters down,” Van Cleave said.
Peterson led the game, putting up 15 points, Doutt had 12, Dunagan and Van Cleave had eight each, Connor Goff had four and Hayden Gosling had three. Taylor and Cade Goff had two apiece.