McNary’s Harry Cavell puts up a shot in the Celtics’ game with South Salem High School Tuesday, Jan. 6. A 67-60 win for McNary puts it alone in first place in the Greater Valley Conference and at No. 5 in statewide OSAA rankings. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

McNary’s Harry Cavell puts up a shot in the Celtics’ game with South Salem High School Tuesday, Jan. 6. A 67-60 win for McNary puts it alone in first place in the Greater Valley Conference and at No. 5 in statewide OSAA rankings. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

Ryan Kirch, head coach of the McNary High School boys varsity basketball team, expected the winner of a game with the South Salem High School Saxons to be the last team with the ball.

He was right, and for the Celtics, it meant claiming the top spot in the Greater Valley Conference with a 67-60 win Tuesday, Jan.6.

To be completely fair, McNary had some help. The Saxons handed over the ball five times on offensive fouls in the final 1:20 of the game and Celts Tregg Peterson, Harry Cavell and Trent Van Cleave combined to hit 9 of 10 from the foul line.

“We want to show them that we can play and compete and that they’re not running away with the title,” said McNary’s Cole Thomas prior to the game.

While the Celts get to bask in the glory of the win, if any Celt players have nightmares this week, they will surely come in the form of 5-foot-7 Saxon point guard Jacob Ramos. Ramos hit four consecutive three-pointers at the top of the night to keep McNary from running away on an early 12-6 lead. He also lifted South over McNary with three points (a bucket and a free throw) in the last seconds of the first frame. The teams started the second quarter with South up 23-20.

The Celts leapt back into the driver’s seat on buckets by Dunagan and Peterson and didn’t relinquish it again the rest of the night. However, South didn’t throw in the towel until the final minute.

McNary managed to extend its lead to seven points midway through the second period and doubled it, 50-36, by the end of the third period.

With about three minutes left in the game, South had managed to stop the bleeding and cinch up the gap to 54-50. Peterson put in consecutive two-pointers, but South answered both times – first with a two and then with a trey. The teams were at 58-55 when the Saxon frustrations began getting the better of them.

The Celts were ranked fifth in the state at press time, but the team was still working out some kinks over the winter break when a tough loss made for a good lesson.

The Celts were on a five-game win streak after the first game in a Summit High School tournament the weekend after Christmas. McNary had already taken down Bend High School 66-49 the first night of the tournament and players had their thoughts on playing for the championship, said Kirch.

Lebanon High School’s squad had other plans. The Warriors doled out a 59-54 loss to McNary. Things started out rough, said Celt Mathew Ismay.

“We weren’t ready and we weren’t knocking down shots early,” he said. “We also need to get more consistent with our free throws.”

Lebanon outscored the Celtics 12-1 in the first frame. The Keizer team took the game back in the second quarter and went into halftime up 22-19, but the Warriors’ 22-point fourth period sealed McNary’s fate.

“Our attitude and effort wasn’t where it needed to be, but the boys responded and got up the next morning and gutted out a tough game with Seattle Academy,” Kirch said.

McNary beat Seattle Academy 58-50 with junior Harry Cavell leading the offensive effort, pouring in 23 points.

Devon Dunagan had 16 points in the win; Tregg Peterson had 14 points; Ismay had three and Trent Van Cleave put in two.

The Celtics returned home for a game with Oregon City Friday, Jan. 2, and battled to a 64-50 win in a game where the outcome wasn’t certain until the final minutes.

McNary had a 20-11 lead after the first period, but the Pioneers started the second frame with a seven-point run cutting the Celts’ lead to two. McNary answered, but Oregon City kept it close with a three-pointer and the spread was never more than four points until halftime.

Celtic defense came to life in the second half, throttling Oregon City.

“I think we did a good job of playing good defense down the stretch. We closed out really well and played on the same plane at their team,” said Thomas.

Still, McNary’s seven-point lead headed into the final minutes felt shakier than it looked on paper. Again, the defense came through.

“It was one of our most consistent games and when it came down to the final minutes we were able to play good defense and get to the free throw line,” Kirch said. “We took a big step in playing consistently for 32 minutes.”

Cavell led the team with 21 points, but Peterson was right on his heels with 20. Cade Goff and Van Cleave had eight points each; Ismay had four and Dunagan had three.

With the win over South and a game at Sprague on tap Friday, Jan. 9. Kirch was most interested in seeing more Celtic consistency.

“We have a week with a team at the top of state rankings and one closer to the bottom. I’m looking forward to our preparation and concentration level to be the same regardless of who we play,” Kirch said.