McNary’s Cade Goff looks for a shot around a South Salem High School defender in the game Tuesday, Feb. 3. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

McNary’s Cade Goff looks for a shot around a South Salem High School defender in the game Tuesday, Feb. 3. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

Prior to a big game with the South Salem High School Saxons, Ryan Kirch, head coach of the McNary High School varsity basketball team, wanted three things from the Celtics: guarding well, guarding without fouls and the ability to slow down the pace of the game.

He got one of three. The resulting 71-62 loss means the Celts drop from the top of the Greater Valley Conference into a tie for first with the Saxons.

“They’re really not like anybody else we face,” Kirch said.

Throughout the game Tuesday, Feb. 3, McNary’s athletes played a relatively clean defensive game while the Saxons racked up fouls. But South never let up on offense and, even when the Celts were trying to slow things down, they would end up rushing shots or outrunning dribbles creating turnovers that played right into South’s ability to score quickly.

South also locked down McNary’s top shooters Tregg Peterson and Harry Cavell. Peterson, who had been averaging 16 points per game, experienced long droughts in his 11-point total for the night. Cavell managed only 13.

One of bright spots in the game was a stronger start for the Keizer team than it has had in a while. The Celts edged South to take a 15-14 lead by the first period buzzer, but South spent the rest of the night in the driver’s seat.

On a 10-2 scoring run in the fourth period, McNary drew within six points of the Saxons. However, from that point on, South had an answer for every bucket or missed opportunity by McNary. Senior Devon Dunagan led the team in scoring for the night with 16 points.

The prelude to McNary’s game with South Salem was a game with Forest Grove High School Friday, Jan. 30, and it was another sluggish start for McNary.

After McNary edged the Vikings 24-22 in the first period, Forest Grove put out a monster second frame outscoring McNary 18-7.

“They shot the ball really, really well. We shot the ball well, we just didn’t guard as well as we needed to,” said Kirch. “They had a kid hit five threes, two of them from NBA-range.”

Slow starts have plagued the Celtic team for much of the season, but it’s not as though the team is in denial.

“We need to get a lot better at the start of the game,” said Peterson. “We can’t come out thinking we’re going to roll anyone over. We have to play like every team is going to push us like South Salem.”

Per usual, the Keizer team hit the court with a renewed sense of urgency and turned the tables. McNary outshot Forest Grove 16-8 in the third frame, cutting the Vikings’ lead to 48-47. A 19-point fourth period gave the Celts a 66-58 win.

“It wasn’t a sloppy game, but it was physical and we got to the line and hit our shots there. We survived it,” Kirch said.

Junior Harry Cavell led the team with 19 points; Peterson had a double-double with 17 points and 12 rebounds; Dunagan and Trent VanCleave each had 11 points; Mathew Ismay put in eight; and Cade Goff hit two from the line.

The Celts squared off with North Salem High School on the road Tuesday, Jan. 27, and kept the other Greater Valley Conference Vikings to single digits in all but one frame. McNary won 59-33.

Peterson poured in 21 points to lead the team; Cade Goff had nine points; Cavell and Dunagan had eight each; Cole Thomas and VanCleave had four each; Drew McHugh hit one from three-point range and Ismay got one from the line.