The Taft High boys basketball team, playing without leading scorer Ray Darrington due to concussion protocol, fell 59-51 at Willamina in a Coastal Range League game Monday night that closed out the Tigers’ 2018-19 season.
Taft concluded its season 7-15 overall and 2-10 in league play, while the fourth-place Bulldogs finished 12-10, 4-8.
File photos by Lon French
Coach Andy Morgan’s Comments
“Once again, the visiting Taft Tigers had a chance to dampen the mood, as the home team celebrated Senior Night. The final game of the Tiger season was a montage of the season. Senior captain Ray Darrington would spend his last night on the Tiger basketball team — as a spectator.
“Darrington led all Tiger scorers this season, but could only cheer his teammates in a game that meant little to either squad, except for bragging rights. The Bulldogs won the first meeting of the season, in overtime, with four Tigers riding the pine for the entire game. In this final contest, juniors Jordan Hall Lucas Hindman and Eli DeMello, along with senior William Brooks, were all available — while their dominant man in the middle, the 6-9 Darrington, sat on the bench.
“Willamina took an early 10-8 lead in the first quarter as the Tigers adjusted to their smaller lineup, including ironman Clay Nelson in the post against the much larger Bulldogs. Nelson, missing only one day this year due to procedures involved with his future military position, has been willing to participate in whatever capacity he is needed. While Nelson doesn’t normally make a splash in the stat columns, his dedication to the concept of ‘team’ has earned him the permanent roll of captain on this squad.
Hall led Taft with five points and freshman Kaden Hindman added a 3-pointer. Senior Tyee Fisher was whistled with a couple of quick fouls, causing some concern for the visiting team already battling the pair of dominant interior players of the Bulldogs. Taft was already challenged by the absence of Darrington, compounded by the illness of “Little Fish,” Trenton Fisher, who was barely getting back to full health following an extended leave during the month of December. The Tigers, finding themselves short a post and a point-guard, fought through the first eight minutes, committing few turnovers, and managing to hold the Bulldogs with man-to-man defense.
“As the second period began, the Tigers continued with their game plan of man defense, and advancing the ball in transition quickly through the middle. Hall made his second deep-ball during the second, and added a couple of critical free throws. The team recognized the foul situation, and penetrated the middle, finding their way to the free throw line. The awaited return of DeMello, who hadn’t seen a minute of league play due to an injury sustained in preseason — was welcomed as he scored a 3-pointer, a layup, and went 3-for-4 from the charity stripe. Francisco Ramos scored five in the frame, and a pair of free throws by both Lucas Hindman and William Brooks had four players in the scorebook who didn’t play in the first meeting between the teams.
“This Tiger squad, particularly the juniors, have played together for many seasons and have been waiting all season to share the floor together. The Tigers went into halftime leading 30-23, and the Bulldogs looked confused.
“The third period has often been a do-or-die opportunity for the Tigers. Often returning from the break a bit flat, the Tigers were properly motivated upon the return to play. With Tyee Fisher still looking at some early foul trouble, Taft came out with their smallest lineup of the year, including both Hindman brothers, Hall, DeMello and Ramos. Taft seemed to struggle with the adjustments, missing someone more familiar with the transition offense, as the Tigers faced full-court pressure from the Bulldogs. Tyee Fisher returned to the game and added five points as the Tigers were outscored 16-13 in the third frame. Hall, DeMello and Ramos recorded the additional points as Taft held on to a four-point lead.
“The fourth period has been critical for Taft in recent games. The Tiger team has become unhinged when carrying a lead, and has been apprehensive about trusting the system, the team, and themselves. For the fifth game in the past six, the Tigers failed to put up double digits on the scoreboard, and allowed a game high 20, by the Bulldogs.
“Tyee Fisher led the Tigers with a single 3-ball, but was hammered with a technical foul for celebrating it. It is a rule that is very loosely enforced and relies on opinion, and individual judgment by the official. It was a disappointing call, and influenced the Tiger defensive plan.
“Playing predominantly a 2-3 zone following the first quarter, Taft would need to continue combating the Bulldogs with a smaller defense. Senior, William Brooks went 1-for-2 from the charity stripe in a critical transition in the fourth, before Willamina’s Watkins buried his fifth 3-pointer of the night, giving the Bulldogs a lead they would not relinquish.
“Besides the obvious scoring woes, the Tigers turned the ball over in the fourth — like they had against earlier league foes. “It’s a recipe for disaster,” as assistant coach, Kyle Hindman has reminded them often as he looks over his stat sheets. Finishing with 19 turnovers and 11 points from the seniors, it was too much to overcome for the visiting Tigers, falling 59-51.
“Willamina will travel to Warrenton for a league playoff game on Thursday night. The Tigers will go fishing. The Tigers used 14 starting lineups in 22 games. In all, the seniors missed a collective 13 games, juniors 33 games. Starting guards Trenton Fisher and DeMello played in only four games together this season — as Eli was only able to participate in a total of three quarters in the final game.
“Early in the season, it was decided to play sophomore Graden Kehr, sophomore Fco Ramos, and freshman Kaden Hindman on both JV and varsity squads. As it turns out, they all played significant minutes and all started varsity games. Kehr was sidelined late in the season, at the peak of his performance, due to a concussion. Nobody plays harder than Graden, and as he returns to full health, it’s a shame we don’t have more games to watch his development.
“My grandmother stitches patch quilts, and it is possible that she should have been on the team this year. Her expertise of making something beautiful from parts and pieces that are so very different would have been an inspiration. Our final product this year, much like my grandma’s quilts, was unique, colorful, kind of ugly in places, but when you stand back and look at the group of guys that made it work — they are all pretty remarkable young men, and quite nice to see. We rarely had more than nine dressed for any single game, while the full roster should have had 11 young men on it, including our seniors.
“These seniors will get to be the first to prove their worth in this world. I am certain they will. We are building a culture with Taft basketball. We are learning to be confident and strong, to be willing to help when needed, to lead when necessary, to trust, and to always be fearless. Winners are those who accept the challenge to play, and every single athlete that has played for Taft this year is a winner.”
The Taft girls suffered a 51-25 road loss to the Bulldogs for their 19th straight defeat.
Third-place Willamina improved to 14-10 overall and 6-6 in league play, while the Tigers finished the season 2-20, 0-12.
Details from the girls game were not reported.