By Robert Husseman • Sports Editor • 

Eyes on the Tigers

Javi Renteria is presently the face of the Yamhill-Carlton boys basketball team’s resurgence.

It hasn’t always been pretty – Renteria suffered a broken nose and lost a front tooth in the Tigers’ Feb. 11 Class 4A Cowapa League contest at Astoria. His absence from the court was brief.

“He comes back out and plays pretty darn tough,” Tigers coach Gary McCulloch said.

After bouts of listless play and inconsistency derailed it early, Yamhill-Carlton is on a winning track. The Tigers (14-10, 6-4 Cowapa) have won six of their last seven games, including a 53-49 victory over North Marion in a Class 4A state play-in game Saturday in Yamhill. Y-C has a chance to play in the Class 4A state tournament, held at Gill Coliseum in Corvallis on March 13-15, for the first time since 2007.

“They need to be proud of themselves,” McCulloch said. “There are not that many teams from Y-C that have made the final 16. And the thing is, we can continue on.”

“Our goal at the beginning of the season was to get to Gill and win the league,” senior guard Conner Weidner said. “We didn’t win league” – the Tigers finished second to Tillamook (17-6, 10-0) – “but we can still get to Gill.”

Players spoke about an attitude adjustment that, while hard to qualify, occurred sometime around Feb. 4, when Y-C defeated Seaside, 55-48, for the first of those six wins. The Tigers were in a three-way tie with Scappoose and Seaside for second place entering the regular season’s final week – a true do-or-die scenario – and conjured up consecutive wins against the Indians and the Seagulls. Yamhill-Carlton’s only loss in the past month came against Tillamook on Feb. 14 – a 57-56 squeaker.

“We used to get our heads down – pretty much everyone on the team,” senior forward Jon Clark said. “Now we keep our heads up.”

The Tigers’ biggest player has stepped up in equal measure. Six-foot-7 sophomore Ryan Sullivan got more aggressive for Y-C, particularly inside, and the team has responded in kind.

“He was a little punk at the beginning of the season,” Weidner said. “Now he’s using his mental and physical capabilities to a higher standard.”

Getting to Gill will be no small feat, as the No. 13-seeded Tigers must go through No. 4 La Grande for the privilege. The La Grande Tigers are 18-3 in 2013-14 and won the Class 4A Greater Oregon League (5-1) over Ontario, Baker and McLoughlin.

Y-C left Yamhill today and received an opportunity to practice on La Grande’s home floor, a day in advance of the 7 p.m. contest.

“They’re really deep,” McCulloch said of the other Tigers. “You give them an open shot, they’re going to make it. They’re not big, but they’re not small.”

And Yamhill-Carlton is not just a No. 13 seed.

“We’re peaking at the right time,” McCulloch said.

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