When the Gig Harbor High girls basketball team traveled to a tournament in Ketchikan, Alaska, just after Christmas, the Tides viewed it as a chance to start over.
Gig Harbor began the season on a seven-game losing streak, and maybe the most difficult loss happened right before the Alaska trip, when the Tides blew a late lead and fell in overtime to crosstown rival Peninsula.
Since then, however, the Tides have performed like a much different team. They won two of their three games in Alaska, then returned to their home court Friday and picked up a 49-42 victory over the Yelm Tornados in Class 4A Narrows League action.
Senior guard Ali Sommers said the players have started to accept their roles and complement leading scorer Taylor Talen, who had another superb outing against Yelm with a game-high 19 points.
“Playing as a team is huge, because, for a while, it was like Taylor was kind of our star player,” Sommers said, “but now we’re all kind of spreading it out and all being really great.
“I think it was the losing streak that really got us frustrated, and Ketchikan was kind of like a brand-new start.”
The Tornados were no slouches. They had won seven of their first nine games behind the low-post play of seniors Dalia Bader and Anushka Maldonado.
But the Tides neutralized both players for most of the game, and they finished with a combined 15 points on 4-for-15 shooting.
Gig Harbor (3-8 overall, 1-3 league) got strong play from its senior posts. Naphtali Ward and Sammi Markham were on the floor together for much of the game. They not only held the Tornados’ duo in check, but they scored some key baskets of their own.
Leading 30-26 after three quarters, the Tides continually drove to the basket to inflict damage. They finished the game 15-for-28 (53.5 percent) at the free-throw line but went 9-for-14 (64.3 percent) in the fourth quarter.
After Yelm tied the score, freshman guard McKenzie Alton scored four straight to put Gig Harbor ahead 38-34. Maldonado fouled out with just more than a minute to play, and an intentional foul on Yelm’s Tessa Matthews with 48 seconds left helped the Tides salt the game away with free throws.
Alton, who scored six points in the victory, echoed Sommers’ thoughts on the Tides’ recent improvements.
“I think we’ve really come together as a team over going to Alaska,” she said. “We trust each other a lot more, so we’re willing to give the ball up.”
Gig Harbor came out of the gates quickly as Ward scored four of her nine points in the first quarter. Talen scored seven in the second quarter, and her putback basket gave the Tides their biggest lead of the game, 19-8.
Yelm (7-3, 1-2) closed the first half on a 9-0 run, then took a brief lead in the third quarter when Maldonado scored five of her 10 points.
Both teams had trouble hanging onto the ball. Gig Harbor collected 21 turnovers but gave it away 33 times, and that’s an area the Tides know they need to work on.
“We’ve had some struggles with that,” Alton said, “but we just keep practicing and learning and trying not to turn it over.”
“That was the only thing that was keeping the game so close was our turnovers, and that was really rough,” Sommers added. “If we just keep cutting down on turnovers, we’ll be winning games non-stop.”
Gig Harbor will face two struggling teams this week. It will host Foss at 7 p.m. Wednesday to finish its nonleague slate and travel to Stadium at 7 p.m. Friday.
Beating a quality team like Yelm should only help the Tides during the final month of the regular season, Sommers said.
“We’ve learned that we can play with tough teams,” she said. “We just had to play tough every quarter, and that’s exactly what we did.”Sports Editor Neil Pierson can be reached at 253-358-4155 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @gateway_neil.