By Jeremy McDonald
SALEM, Ore.–Senior Night at McKay. Emotions are high as the seniors are being recognized. It’s the last time that the Seniors will get to wear the fame colors of the Royal Scots in front of the home crowd.
For Demerius Bailey, Izaya Corando, Tristen Wilson and Darrell Woods, February 23 marked a day that they’ll remember for the rest of their lives as they were being recognized by friends and walked out with family.
The journey to this point of the season has been an interesting one by the McKay Royal Scots, filled with great performances, but it was matched by heartbreak.
This is their journey.
‘Lift As You Climb’ was like the famous Rocky Montage to the McKay Boy’s Basketball Team’s Rocky personality.
They’re the underdog, the ‘easy’-win to the eyes of South Salem, West Salem and Sprague in the Greater Valley Conference. Barely on the radar with newspapers unless the other team had something going on noteworthy of acknowledging even McKay High School.
With their offseason training program wrapping up, Head Coach Dean Sanderson and his coaching staff tried to instill a new mentality entering the 2015-2016 season of ‘Hard Work Pays Off’ through ‘Lift As You Climb’.
They knew the challenge was going to be tough to change the culture around the McKay Royal Scot Basketball Program, but they were ready for it. They were sick and tired of being a punchline in the GVC, they knew that the change has to start right here, right now.
“I think right now at McKay, kids are used to losing. Kids are accepting losing,” Sanderson said. “I think the community is accepting and other schools in our area accept that McKay isn’t going to be that good and we want to change that.”
Senior Tristen Wilson noted that there has been a huge difference from his junior year to now entering his senior season with the program: More accountability.
“Last year it had a different feel to it. We were (in the) ‘doing whatever we want’ mentality. This year the coaches aren’t allowing that,” he described the difference. “This year, it’s much faster pace. We’re on the line 10 times more than we did last year.
“We have people competing, working their butts off to get that starting spot.”
“We’re just tired of losing. We’re not going to settle for this (anymore),” added Demeris Bailey. “This year we’re going to do whatever we can to win.”
The weeks of conditioning turned into hardworking practices on November 16 when practices “officially began”.
Echoing off the walls, you heard Jack Martino motivating the team. Once you heard him go, “Don’t stand, don’t stand. This is your conditioning. If you don’t run here, we’ll run on the track. The track is open today.”
Sanderson challenged his team to hold each other accountable, even if the coaches don’t say anything or hear anything, can you make sure you and your teammates are doing the right thing to get better.
Soon after all of that hard work during those two weeks, with the coaches and players pushing one another in practice, paid off come game day on December 2 versus Dallas.
Excitement was in the air because it was not just the first game, but the first home game of the year. Electricity filled the gym as McKay warmed-up.
“I don’t know, I’m just kind of nervous right now,” said Darrell Woods with a nervous smile. “But once on the court, we’ll be strong because we’re all excited for this.”
Cheers erupted by the home crowd when each name was read and the players jogged onto the court following the National Anthem for the starting line-ups. The environment continued to be electric.
Starting Lineup on Opening night was: 5-10 Junior Hayden Hull, 5-9 Sophomore Israel Garza, 5-9 Junior Shaton Daniels, 5-5 Junior Josaiah Castillo and 6-4 Senior Tristen Wilson.
The tip came and quickly the Scots found themselves in a 6-0 hole early, but battled back as Noah Tavera hit a buzzer beating three-pointer to give McKay a 39-38 lead at halftime.
“First of all I knew we had less time because everyone was yelling, ‘Look at the clock, look at the clock’,” he said on the play. “I tried to be behind the three-point line, but I guess I wasn’t.
“I guess the adrenaline kicked in and I took a shot. I was confident it would’ve gone in, but sometimes you got to trust your shot.”
The lead increased to six before faced with adversity again as Dallas went on a 17-0 run to take an 11-point lead in the second half.
But the Scots battled back and found themselves looking for the game-winner with seconds to go.
“Battling back is a huge positive for us,” said Wilson. “Down 11 halfway through the fourth and we battled back with our fast quality of our offense and that’s why we have this offense so we can battle back like that.”
It wasn’t meant to be, however.
On that final play, the Dragon poked the ball loose with McKay driving for the game-winning basketball, creating a scramble for the ball. The refs awarded Dallas the ball as time expired following a Jump-Ball call.
As the team walked into the locker room, you could tell that this game burned and hurt, but they could hang their heads high despite the result.
Sanderson told his team so inside the locker room after the game.
“Look it’s a long season,” Sanderson told the team. “Basketball is 24 games, three-and-a-half-months (journey). We knew coming into this it wasn’t going to be easy and we have a long way to go.”
As the season progressed, you saw the team in games, competing against quality opponents like Century and Aloha.
Sanderson constantly pushed and challenged his team leading into the Century game in mid-December.
In an intra-squad match that saw the seniors defeated soundly by the underclassmen, Sanderson asked junior Tavera why his team beat the seniors.
“We battled hard and we didn’t quit,” said Tavera.
Sanderson gave the team a choice, buy in or make excuses as they went up a tough Century team from the Metro League Tuesday.
“This is your season,” said Sanderson to the seniors and to the team as practice wrapped up.
Walking out of the locker room, somber looks were on the faces of the team as they comprehend what Coach just told them minutes earlier.
“He’s trying to motivate us to start leading,” said Demeris Bailey, who came back from an ankle injury he suffered earlier in the season. “We haven’t done a good job with that. It motivates me.”
The Challenge worked, turning a 11-point deficit towards the end of halftime into a nine-point lead entering the fourth quarter in a 89-80 loss to the Jaguars.
They carried that momentum into the game against rival North Salem High School. Behind a quick start, the Scots took the game for their first win of the season.
“We came together at practice, as a team and we contributed as a team,” said a very prideful Wilson in the middle of the Vikings court following the game. “Not one person on this team didn’t help us out tonight.
“Everyone contributed equally.”
McKay would hit a speed bump here and there, but shocked not just Grants Pass leading into the Abby’s Holiday Tournament, and finished fourth after defeating Ashland in the final game as they entered 2016 with some momentum.
“We’ve got some pretty good momentum,” said Sanderson. “(We) won three of four and I’ll like to see the kids come out and play really well heading into the final stretch of our league (season).”
Once back into the GVC after finishing 1-2 entering the New Year, it took the Scots sometime to find a groove.
GVC LEAGUE PART TWO
They returned to league refreshed and ready to go, but hit bumpy roads as they saw close games with West Salem and McMinnville turn bad. Emotions were high, they knew they had those games, they knew it hurt.
When most teams in that situation fold up tent and go home, McKay didn’t.
Going back to work, they beat West Albany thanks to a team effort that saw Josiah Castillo hit a crucial shot, Demeris Bailey gave the Scots a one-point lead with two free-throws and Tristen Wilson making a tipping save to keep the Bulldogs from winning the game.
To wrap up the first half of the GVC, they faced so much adversity versus then-third place Forest Grove.
Referees calling 25-plus fouls, turnovers and numerous double-figure deficits entering the fourth before making a push to cut the score to six with Wilson fouled out and three minutes to play in the game.
Castillo described it as it was something they were supposed to do as his team saw themselves down six with mere minutes to play in the game.
“We just kept fighting and battling like we’re supposed to and when you do those types of things, things just come together,” he said. “It was good.”
“I don’t think our guys want to lose,” added Joey Hang. “We want to win really badly. You know, we’re really tired of it. I think we’re taking steps in the right direction.”
But, through their fight, the Vikings stole the ‘W’ with some late free throws as they lost to Sprague that following Tuesday.
Motivation picked up as high-octane practices leading up to their second match-up with the South Salem Saxons turned into pushing the Saxons to earn their 92-78 on January 29.
“That’s what McKay Basketball been about, we always compete and we always battle,” said Sanderson. “I think our kids got up tonight because they didn’t want to get embarrassed and they didn’t.
“They battled back and South Salem had to battle to win this one.”
The McKay Way prevailed as they continued their hustling ways into North Salem, beating them 79-52 for their sixth-win of the season as they continue to push for that 32nd spot in the OSAA.
But that plan witnessed another speed bump as they saw McMinnville deny them of a chance for redemption.
Tied at 75 with seven seconds remaining, a rebound from a Castillo allowed Aaron Baune to break free and stole a certain victory from the Scots at the buzzer for a 77-75 victory.
As they walked off the court to go to the locker room and to the busses, players and coaches alike had the look of disbelief of what just had happened. That they were just inches away from an incredible victory.
Sanderson described what he told the team in the locker room of how proud he was that night of his teams fight.
“I told them I was really proud of them,” he said. “Anytime you give that kind of effort on the road against a team that beat you by 29 points the first time, you feel great about the effort, terrible about the result.”
As they tried to get that sour taste out of their mouths from the McMinnville game, they turned their focus to Forest Grove to get back on track.
But, the ball didn’t bounce their way once more as they struggle to match the Vikings energy with three games left in their season.
“We didn’t come out with a lot of effort,” said sophomore Khyler Beach. “It was not the best night we could have had and we were missing a lot of shots. It was a bad night.”
After regaining their focus between Friday’s game versus Forest Grove and Tuesday night against West Albany, Darrell Woods hit a massive three to force overtime at the buzzer against the Bulldogs, fighting hard in the match-up.
Talking about leaving a legacy to his seniors, Sanderson told his seniors that Monday evening before the West Albany game about how do they want to be remembered? Jack Martino and Matt Espinoza added to the motivational talk:
Do their best, no matter what the score might be. Finish strong.
Woods was touched by the speech by his coaches, knowing his days in the Green and Gold were numbered.
“I look at it like basketball itself,” he said. “Just playing basketball. You got to go hard no matter how hard it is.
“That’s what motivates me, just for a love for basketball. That’s what I put in front of me, just basketball itself.”
Woods, Wilson and Bailey all led the charge against the number-three team in the GVC in West Salem, and the youngsters followed.
Beach played one of his most physical games of the year, Andre Tovar hit two massive three’s late in the final frame to give the Scots a three-point lead before losing a tough, hard-fought game in overtime to the Titans at the grounds of West Salem High School.
“I thought we led a lot,” said Woods on the senior leadership. “I think when we led, the little guys followed us and we just led from there. That’s why the game was where it was because of our leadership.
“We just played hard,” Woods continued. “I thought we won in my eyes even though we lost. We set a tone for next year.”
For Isreal Garza, he knew how important it was to have that senior influence.
“Our seniors stepped up, just helped us and when we got into overtime, it didn’t go our way,” said the sophomore. “We kept battling, just trying to get the win.”
Now, back to where we started: Senior Night. The celebration of all the hard work and sacrifice of what the seniors gave to this great program at McKay High School.
Though they entered the game at 6-17 overall, Sanderson knew his seniors deserved more with all the hard work they put in during their four-years at McKay.
“This group this season will push us to the next season,” stared Sanderson. “I’m just disappointed that it didn’t happen with the seniors (this year). I felt like they deserve a few more wins.”
This game was the pinnacle of their hard work as they tipped-off against the tenth-ranked team in 6A in McNary.
Leading 10-6 early, they fought from 11-points down to be within one of the Celtics with just mere minutes to play; a far cry from a 103-70 loss earlier this season.
“We all just worked hard for the seniors,” described Josiah Castillo on the inspiration. “We all tried our best and I thought we outworked them at times and we just did it for the seniors.”
Though they would ultimately lose, 76-60, it didn’t matter what the scoreboard said as they gather for one last team picture with their family, friends and one another around them convincing Coach Sanderson to ‘Dab’ for a last picture with his team of the season.
They were just proud of how the team progressed this season and set a foundation for 2016-2017.
“A lot of hard work was put into this whole season, into this gym,” said Wilson. “It was a group of seniors that had a dream to work hard and just leave a legacy that we’re not going to accept losing anymore. We’re going to do our best to win.
“I think that this legacy that these four seniors left, I think this group that will go on and push hard and make playoffs for us.”
Though the faces will change with Tristen Wilson, Demeris Bailey, Darrell Woods, and Izaya Coronado graduating; they’ve left an impression to the upcoming stars at McKay:
For Sanderson, he hoped that what these seniors learned in their time as a Royal Scot is as good as winning a State Championship after all the hard work and sacrifice that they, and the underclassmen, left behind.
“I loved it, I love the effort, I loved the fighting until it’s over, even when you’re out of the playoffs. It’s a true example of high school sports should be about,” said Sanderson. “Because five years down the road, no one’s going to give a senior group of guys a job because they were on a state playoff basketball team or they weren’t.
“But learning to continue to work and continue to fight and show-up when you don’t feel like it even when it feels pointless, are great attributes to have in there next stage of their lives. If that changed the course of their life, then this was worth it. I’ll take all the losses…if these guys get something out of it and I think they will.
Noah Tavera, Khyler Beach, Andre Tovar and Shanton Daniels to name a few who will take over the reins next season from their seniors.
As my favorite part as a journalist after the last game of the season, I ask a senior or two their advice to the youngsters.
For Darrell Woods, just work your tails off.
“Just keep working hard,” said Woods. “Learn from this season and just use it as motivation for the next. Just continue to fight..”
Tristen Wilson said don’t forget the hard work and sacrifice that they, as seniors, and them, as a team as a whole, put into the gym.
“I think that this legacy that these four seniors left, I think this group that will go on and push hard and make playoffs for us,” said Wilson. “Hard work will pay off,” added Wilson. “Trust me, we put in so much work this offseason and during the season at the same time, it was a very good season hard work wise.
“If we can continue this, and moving on and keep pushing, our underclassmen will be successful I promise you that. This is a team to watch out for because it’s going to be a scary season next year for them.”