Celt Justin Burgess takes it to the hoop in McNary’s game with West Salem High School. Burgess had 18 points and 10 rebounds in the game that the Celts won 53-50. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

A very different McNary High School boys basketball team took the court against West Salem High School Friday, Jan. 27.

During the preseason and the first run through league teams, the Celtics played hard, but often as individuals rather than as a team. Passing seemed to be an obligation rather than selflessness.

On Friday, the team discovered a new mode of play. The ball was dished to teammates who had the best look at the basket creating a seamless offense that was often thrilling to watch as the Celts picked up a 53-50 over the third-place team in the Central Valley Conference.

“I think it started before we even got on the court,” said Celt Justin Burgess, who poured in 18 points and 10 rebounds. “I had everybody on the team write down their personal and team goals. After that, it was just a matter of going out and doing it.”

McNary lagged just behind the visiting Titans throughout the first half with three-point goals by Isaiah Montano and Nick McDonald rallying the team from its deepest deficits.

McNary managed to outscore West in the third period to knot the game at 38-38 going into the fourth period.

“We just played inspired with an incredible defensive effort and we executed our game plan absolutely perfectly,” said Ryan Kirch, McNary head coach.

The teams were tied again 50-50 with six seconds to go when Celt Garren Robinett hit a three-point goal to put the Celts over the Titans at the final buzzer.

“Garren and Justin lead us to victory by playing hard, tough basketball. They willed us to win for the most part,” Kirch said.

Johnathan Doutt put up 11 points for the Celts against West, Robinett hit nine, Montano had seven points, McDonald had five, Jon Kiser had two and Connor Goff hit one from the foul line. The Celts shot 66 percent from inside the paint, a vast improvement over a sloppy win against McKay High School five days earlier.

“Since we have such a young team, we’re taking steps every single game to rebuild a tradition here. We take some steps back, but we’re trying to show each other how to do the right things on the basketball, court,” Burgess said.

One of those steps back was a 71-39 loss to South Salem High School, sandwiched between the McNary’s two wins of the week.

“Not a whole of anything was going right,” Robinett said. “We just couldn’t make shot and had a rough stretch shooting from the field where we didn’t hit anything.”

The team also lacked Burgess under the basket while he finished serving a two-game suspension resulting from an on-court altercation a week earlier.

“We played well to about a 10-point game at the half and then we got beat a few times in transition and fell apart,” Kirch said.

Doutt led the Celtics with 16 points, Kiser had six, Montano had four, Dylan Nemione, Grant Fletchall, and Brandon Lao had three each and Connor Goff drained a bucket.

Overall, picking up two wins out of three-game weeks shows how far the team is coming along, Robinett said.

“It may not show in the record, but you can totally see big improvement in everyone growing up and coming together as a team,” he said. “For us to come out and beat a team like West Salem means we can give the other teams a run for their money.”

“It was that family aspect that really helped us out,” Kiser added. “But we also had great support from our home crowd against West.”

Kirch said the change in the team’s performance in the West Salem came as a result of individuals embracing a greater purpose.

“Some guys who have been asked to pass up the shot and that’s tough, but it emphasizes what each of them can do to be a good teammate,” he said.