The ol’ yellar dog talks about Royal basketball

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YAKIMA — I brushed the six-inch accumulation of snow off the car Wednesday night after Yakima city proper got hammered with the latest Pacific Northwest blast of winter, backed out and followed the hordes toward the exit.

I might be mistaken, but after a night of noise, adrenaline and the late-game, deadline rush, I could have sworn, the electronic voice on the GPS said, “Follow that bus.”

It probably didn’t, but it might as well have because the words Royal School District were visible through the snow and crust on the side and we were all headed in the same direction. A couple turns here and there and we jumped on the 82 heading north.

Road crews hadn’t cleared the way yet so the road was a one-lane, two-track trail through the snow. It reminded me a little bit of the road through the alfalfa or the orchard most of the kids on that bus learned to drive on. Country kids get a leg up on these things driving around the farm.

The weather was hideous and the slow-moving traffic was almost as dangerous as the knucklehead needing to blow by through the slush in the outside lane. As we droned on, heater at full blast, Allman Brothers on the box, I pictured the guy sitting in the driver’s seat, hands at 10 minutes to 2 on the wheel, knuckles white with the tension of keeping things upright and between the lines.

Then I got to thinking, if that ol’ yella dog that totes the Knights to and fro could talk, what would it say?

Somewhere in the belly of the beast Royal sophomore Caleb Christensen sat envisioning the last shot of their loser-out game at the 1A Hardwood Classic. Fingers outstretched on the follow through, perfect form, like everybody in the house, following the trajectory of the shot. He wanted with all his heart to have just one Michael Jordan-like moment where it was nothing but net to send it into overtime. It didn’t happen, but he finished the season on the floor of the SunDome and that ought to count for something.

The ol’ yeller dog would also send out a woeful wail for senior Sawyer Jenks, who did everything but sell popcorn at the concession stand trying get his team another night of basketball. At 6-foot-4, the seats in the ol’ dog are about as comfortable as a full-grown man sitting one of those kindergarten school desks. Jenks dove on the floor for loose balls, almost ended up in coach Ray Valle’s lap dashing into the bench chasing an errant pass.

Jenks spent the night banging on and banging against Connell’s Silas Chase. He was 5 of 17 from the floor and doubled Chase’s rebounding production, finishing with 16 boards, seven on the offensive glass, to Chase’s eight. Thing is, Chase was 7 of 10 from the floor for 19 points, but what a game within the game it was.

Yep, the ol’ yella dog has carried these guys to and fro for a good long while now. This particular group, which includes seniors Cody Scribner, Angel Farias, Gage Christensen, Gerrit Larson, Owen Ellis and Jenks, has helped change the culture in a football town. The dog will tell you it’s because of the same work ethic that drives Knights football to the pinnacle.

Most of these guys have carried on the Royal football tradition, which included three consecutive 1A state titles and a 53-game winning streak, the longest active streak in the nation, at one point. Now they have the black and gold fans saying “We Are Royal,” at basketball games. Ray Valle took their competitive nature and shaped it to fit the game played on the hardwood.

Last year, they won their first SCAC East championship since 1975 and became the first Royal team to return to the Hardwood Classic since 2001. With their fourth-place finish in 2017-18, they became the first team in 42 years to bring a trophy back to the Royal Slope.

As we ground our way up the 82 toward Interstate 90, the ol’ yella dog’s tail began to wag, happy to do its part and get the guys back home again.

As they do in Royal City, the Knights handled their disappointment with grace, dignity and honor worthy of representing a town that was out in force to cheer on their efforts.

Rodney Harwood is a sports writer for the Columbia Basin Herald and writes a weekly column for the Sun Tribune. He can be reached at rharwood@columbiabasinherald.com.

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