Tides girls suffer first conference defeat, drop into first-place tie
The Gig Harbor girls basketball team hosted North Thurston for the outright South Sound Conference championship Friday night. The Tides had won an earlier matchup, 60-50, and came into this game undefeated in league play and 12-1 on the season. The Rams brought a 14-1 record and desperately wanted to avenge their earlier loss.
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They say the most dangerous animal is a wounded one, and the Rams played like they’d been hurt by the earlier defeat, opening the game with an intensity unmatched by the Tides. Gig Harbor seemed surprised by the talents of freshman Soraya Ogaldez, who introduced herself by hitting one tough shot after another.
Ogaldez, who didn’t play in the first game, displayed a dizzying array of in-and-out dribbles, high-low stutter steps and snappy double crossovers that continuously freed her for jump shots or layups. She scored 15 points in the first quarter as the Rams took a 17-8 lead.
The Tides understood at that point that they were in for a tough game, buckled down, turned up their defense and climbed back into the contest. North Thurston was employing a high-ball screen for Ogaldez to read and react to. Gig Harbor coach Mike Guinasso instructed defensive stopper Tia Berry to get over the screen and concentrate on staying in front of Ogaldez, and the strategy worked. Berry held her to four points in the second quarter, and she finished with 21 for the game.
Meanwhile, the Tides moved the ball, got key rebounds and erased the lead with a 15-4 run that knotted the score at 30-30 at halftime.
In the third quarter, Gig Harbor allowed a 9-0 run and fell back behind, 39-30. Then talented sophomore guard Taylor Schwab started to put on a show. She is averaging over 20 points a game, has had a few in the 30s and is not a secret anymore to SSC coaches who didn’t have to design game plans around stopping her last year when the Tides played in the South Puget Sound League due to COVID realignment.
She proved hard to contain, dribbling with either hand, gliding around the court and finishing three-point plays by raising her hand and giving the count-it sign for emphasis. The kids got swag after she was all net from 22 feet at the third-quarter buzzer when she displayed her fiery passion, slapping hard high fives to teammates and letting the Ram freshmen know that she was the sheriff in this town. She scored all of the Tides’ 14 points in the period as they took a 44-43 lead.
The teams went back and forth in the fourth quarter before the physical Riley Peschek hit a shot that put Gig Harbor up by six. It seemed that momentum was clearly on their side. North Thurston’s Ogaldez cooled down considerably, only scoring two points in the second half after getting in foul trouble in the third quarter and having Berry ready to guard her upon her return.
It remained close until with 2 minutes to go, the Rams’ Tia Birdtail, who had forced some tough shots and committed a few turnovers earlier, suddenly caught fire from deep. With the Tides missing crucial free throws, going 3-for-10 from the line, and committing some costly turnovers, Birdtail hit three threes in a row as the Rams put away a 62-55 victory. Coach Guinasso said “those were clutch” about the threes from the Rams’ senior who played a physical game and never lost her confidence.
As tough as the defeat was for the Tides on their homecourt, not all is lost. They still share the conference lead with North Thurston. If they can win their remaining two league games against Yelm and River Ridge, they will go into the playoffs as the No. 1 seed from league because of a number draw that favored them over North Thurston before the season started.
The Tides were led in scoring by Schwab with 25 points. Baylee Young had 10 points on a tough shooting night but hit all of her free throws and dished out five assists. Berry didn’t miss from the field, going 4-for-4 with nine points and eight rebounds and played solid defense. Peschek had eight points on 50% shooting and added 13 rebounds and four blocks.
The taste of defeat can be a good thing before the start of the postseason. Winning every game can provide a false sense of security. Losing before the playoffs can bring a sharper focus and a deeper intensity.
Is it better to enter the postseason on a long winning streak? Gonzaga men’s basketball coach Mark Few probably would answer no after going undefeated all the way to the NCAA championship game last year. The Bulldogs got shelled early in that game, didn’t know how to respond to playing from behind and were blown out in the final game of the season by the Baylor Bears. The win streak hardly mattered after that.
The basketball takes funny bounces this time of year and unsung heroes like Birdtail emerge regularly. If the Tides hit their free throws in the fourth quarter, they probably would have won this game and maybe the deceptive feeling of invincibility might have remained. Instead, they can learn from their mistakes and come back even stronger while still maintaining their top seed into the playoffs with a couple more league wins. Yes, this game will hurt for a while, but the Tides are now the wounded animal that is always the most dangerous to deal with.