McNary’s Drew McHugh leaps up for a lay-in in the Celts’ game with South Salem High School Tuesday, Jan. 13. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

McNary’s Drew McHugh leaps up for a lay-in in the Celts’ game with South Salem High School Tuesday, Jan. 13. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

The McNary High School boys varsity basketball team went from predator to prey now that the team is leading the Greater Valley Conference.

“It’s a great position to be in but new for us and a new learning experience for our guys,” said Ryan Kirch, McNary head coach. “We went into the South Salem game confident, not arrogant, and trusted our game plan.”

McNary soared to the top of the GVC with a 67-60 win over South Salem High School Tuesday, Jan. 6. However, the win ups the ante for every game going forward.

“We need to know that every team is coming for us and we need everyone’s best game,” said junior Harry Cavell, who went 6 for 6 at the free throw line, in the final minute of the game with the Saxons, to help McNary pull away.

Cavell put in 17 points in the game overall, but the Celts were led by senior Tregg Peterson who poured in 26 points against the Saxons. McNary took a lead it never relinquished in the second frame against the Saxons, but were under fire for most of the second half.

“South scores so quickly, but we were able to slow things down and create some great mismatches with Tregg, Harry and Devon (Dunagan) out on the court,” Kirch said.

It was the first time McNary beat the Saxons since before Dunagan, a senior, joined the program as a freshman, and he’s well aware of the mark McNary now has on its back.

“From here on out, teams don’t have much to lose by leaving everything on the court against us. We’ll be expected to win and there’s more pressure on our shoulders because of it,” Dunagan said.

In the wake of the big win, Kirch had hoped to see the team reach the same level of preparation and focus against Sprague High School Friday, Jan. 9. The result was middling, he said.

“It took us 18 minutes to start playing with intensity on defense,” Kirch said.

By the end of the first frame, McNary led 19-15 and outscored the Olys 21-18 in the second quarter. But the difference in the Celtic defense became glaringly obvious in the second half. The Celts put in 39 points to the Olys’ 14. The Celtics won 79-47.

“We got the stops in the second half and rattled them because they are a young team and, then, we just went and scored,” said Dunagan, who went 8 of 8 from the field.

Peterson, who is averaging more than 16 points per game, led the team with 21; Dunagan had 18; Trent Van Cleave had 15; Cavell had 12; Mathew Ismay had eight points; Cole Thomas and Wyatt Grine had two each and Jason Sperle hit one from the foul line.

The biggest challenge for the team in the weeks ahead will likely be in its ability to keep an even keel.

“We have to get ready for every opponent no matter who it is,” said Cavell.