Celt Dylan Nemione makes a fast break and bolts for the hoop in the Celtic’s game with St. Helens High School Tuesday, Jan. 3. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

Of the Keizertimes

The McNary High School boys varsity basketball team didn’t as much thrive as they did survive the Christmas Classic Tournament at Hillsboro and Century high schools last week.

The Celts posted three losses: 54-46 to Hillsboro High School, 55-32 to Liberty High School, and 59-38 to Sherwood High School. The upshot, said McNary Head Coach Ryan Kirch, was a thrilling overtime performance in the Hillsboro game and the rising star of freshman Connor Goff.

“We had the opportunity to win in overtime with Hillsboro and the guys set up the play perfectly, but the shot just didn’t fall,” Kirch said.

As preseason games draw to a close this week, Kirch used the tournament opportunities to experiment with the Celtic line-up. His changes put Goff on the court in the Celts’ game with Liberty and then as a starter in the Sherwood match.

“Connor started for us at post and did a phenomenal job. We played probably our best half defensively with him on the court. He’s a tough kid who played physical. That was very encouraging,” Kirch said.

Goff is hoping to make the most of the opportunity as the rest of the season unfolds.

“I’m looking to build on it and get better so I can play varsity all four years,” he said.

Junior post Nick McDonald also continues to earn praise from his coach.

“Nick does a great job of unselfish play, plays that you make for your teammates, and he’s been the most consistent for us all season,” Kirch said.

McDonald said it was both blessing and curse to face some of the tougher competition from the Portland-area leagues, “It showed our weaknesses a lot, especially where we break down on defense and offense.”

During the tournament there were simply moments when forces beyond Celtic control that were working against them and others when their own struggles kept them down.

“Our shots weren’t falling and that was a big one, but breakdowns on defense gave them a lot of easy buckets,” McDonald said.

Goff said McNary’s lack of conditioning also showed through sooner than he would have liked.

“We played pretty good in the first half of most of our games and then we would get tired and lose some of our fundamentals,” Goff said.

With two more games in the preseason, Kirch said he was down to hammering out the kinks in the system he’s developed for the team and making certain each player in the right position suited to their strengths.

“We’ll tweak some things offensively and hang our hat on our man-to-man defense and get after some folks. The biggest thing is now we’re set with a rotation that will make us successful. We’ll use that to get ready for league,” Kirch said.