By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
The McNary High School boys varsity basketball players are league champs.
“It feels great. It’s taken a while, but it’s awesome to start as the last teams in the state and end up here ranked in the top 10,” said Celt senior Devon Dunagan.
A 63-51 win over McKay High School Tuesday, Feb. 24, sealed up co-champion status for McNary.
The one footnote to what was a celebratory evening was sharing the Greater Valley Conference title with South Salem High School. McNary will enter the state playoffs ranked 10th. The Saxons will begin ranked No. 5 based on the strength of their schedule.
“It feels like everything I hoped it would, it’s been a long time since we’ve had a league title and here we are,” said senior Tregg Peterson. “This is where we wanted to be.”
To their credit, McKay never gave up in the match Tuesday. Outsized in every way imaginable, the scrappy Royal Scot team cut McNary’s lead to single digits in the last minute.
“When we put the seniors back in at the end of the fourth quarter, we were just sort of goofing around instead of locking down,” Peterson said.
Knocking down shots from the foul line and a pair of shots in transitions put the game away. Dunagan laid in the final bucket as the last buzzer of league play sounded.
McNary is likely to host its first playoff game Tuesday, March 3.
“From now on, every single play, every single quarter matters. Every single game we need to come out in the first quarter a little better and then finish strong,” Dunagan said.
“We’ve got to finish every game, if we’re up 20, we have to keep going and get up 30 points.We can’t slow down in the middle of it,” Peterson said.
Prior to the McKay game, the Celtics squared off against Sprague High School Friday, Feb. 20. McNary won 63-51.
Throughout the first quarter, the teams traded the lead. With about two minutes left, a bucket from Cade Goff knotted the game at 11-11, but the Olys hit a three-pointer to jump ahead on the next possession.
Another basket by Goff and a trey by VanCleave finally gave the Celts a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Cole Thomas came up with a big block at the end of the first period that prevented another possible three-pointer by Sprague. The next period started 16-14.
“We played okay defensively. We had some miscommunication on our switches, and they scored 14 while we try to hold them to eight in the first period,” said Kirch. “On the other hand, we outscored them 10-2 in the second quarter and got into a rhythm as the game settled down.”
With league play in the rearview, McNary is now in a one-and-done situation. They’ll have until Tuesday to prepare for the first-round state playoff game, but they won’t likely know who their opponent is until Friday, Feb. 27.
“From here on out, competition is going to be difficult, but we’ve played all season to hold on to first place. Our kids have shown their mental toughness in a long season and now there’s just a little bit left,” Kirch said.