Celt Devon Dunagan lays in a shot in McNary’s game with South Salem High School Tuesday, Feb. 3. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

Celt Devon Dunagan lays in a shot in McNary’s game with South Salem High School Tuesday, Feb. 3. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

Despite suffering its first loss in the Greater Valley Conference last week, the McNary High School boys varsity basketball team was back in the mix three days later.

“I couldn’t have been happier,” said Ryan Kirch, Celtic head coach. “Our kids played hard in the game with South Salem (High School) and still lost, then they went down to a tough space at West Albany and battled incredibly hard.”

The Celts trailed the Bulldogs by a point (13-12) after the first period Friday, Feb. 6, but locked down on defense in the second and third quarters.

“We got flustered at first by their 2-3 match-up zone, then once we got a hold on it we scored early and often. We had to adjust and went to man defense to help,” said senior Devon Dunagan.

In the second and third frames, the Celts outscored West Albany 23-10.

“It was a physical first half, but I think we just wanted it more after halftime,” said McNary’s Mathew Ismay.

Junior Harry Cavell led scoring with 19 points against the Bulldogs, which included going 12 for 12 from the free throw line. Tregg Peterson put up 14 points; Trent VanCleave had 11; Dunagan and Connor Goff had four apiece; and Cade Goff Ismay and Jason Sperle each put in two.

“The second and third quarters were big for us and that’s the sign of a good team,” Kirch said. “It was really one of our better games this season.”

McNary had games on tap this week with West Salem and McMinnville high schools, two teams that gave the Celtics a run for their money in contests earlier this season.

“We have to learn from the struggles in those first games and know going in what we can do to contain their strengths,” Dunagan said.

Strong starts would go a long way toward helping the effort, Ismay added.

As the regular season enters its final throes, Kirch said the team’s biggest challenges will be game-to-game.

“Basketball has a long season and staying mentally focused until the end is always difficult,” he said. “We’re ranked ninth in the state right now and we’d like make the top eight and win the first playoff game so we can host the second one. Until then, we need to keep our eyes on what’s in front of us.”