A month ago, it would’ve been difficult to envision the Gig Harbor High girls basketball team’s transformation into a playoff contender.
During the past 10 games, however, the Tides have improved in many aspects, and they’ve got a chance to reach the West Central District playoffs for the first time since the 2008-09 season.
Gig Harbor secured its eighth win in 10 games on Friday, using a fast start to overwhelm the Stadium Tigers 53-33 at Gig Harbor’s John Gorrow Gymnasium.
With three games left on the Class 4A Narrows League schedule, the Tides (8-9 overall, 5-4 league) sit squarely in fourth place, a half-game behind Central Kitsap and a half-game ahead of Olympia for the final postseason berth.
Their remaining slate is challenging — away games versus South Kitsap and CK sandwiched around Friday’s home date with Bellarmine Prep — but the Tides couldn’t have asked for much more when January started.
“This has been one amazing turnaround — I’ve never had a team that has done this, and this is my 20th year of coaching,” Gig Harbor coach Bob Boback said. “They work hard, and they like each other, and right now, we control our destiny.”
Gig Harbor could’ve put itself in better position last Wednesday at Yelm, but it couldn’t hold onto a late lead and dropped a 55-47 decision to the second-place Tornados.
That steeled the players’ resolve for Friday’s matchup with Stadium (0-8, 2-13).
“We were a little mad, and so we wanted to just come out strong and get ahead on them so that we could have a big game,” freshman wing McKenzie Alton said.
The Tides took control right away. Naphtali Ward won the opening tip, and the ball immediately went to Taylor Talen for a fast-break layup just seconds into the game.
That was the start of a huge first quarter as Gig Harbor built a 17-3 lead. The margin grew to 17 points at halftime and 24 after three quarters.
The Tides followed through on Boback’s pregame message.
“The main thing we wanted to do, I told them, is play great defense,” he said, “and we held them to three points in the first quarter, so that was ... a great statement.”
Four of Gig Harbor’s starters — Talen, Alton, Ward and Katy Larson — took a seat for the fourth quarter, allowing the team’s reserves some extra playing time.
Talen finished with a game-high 14 points, and Alton scored seven of her 11 during a red-hot start to the second half.
“It was nice to take a break,” Alton said of resting the starters. “I would love to play the whole game, but it was good for the other girls because they got to play a lot, and I think it was fun for them.”
Alton’s play has been a major reason for the Tides’ success this season. Boback said she often stays after practice to work on her jump shot, and her love for the game is obvious.
“She’s already the all-time (program) leader for freshmen in steals,” the coach said. “She’s a ball-hawker, and she just really is smart.”
Sophomore KJ Keim made her first varsity start for the Tides and did exactly what Boback was looking for — shut down the Tigers’ ballhandlers.
At the start of the season, Boback gave Keim the option of being a “swing player” and playing occasionally on varsity, but she chose to be the JV captain and get more playing time. However, because of her solid defensive skills, Boback felt he couldn’t hold her back any longer.
If the Tides reach the postseason and play a team with a strong point guard, Keim could provide valuable depth.
“The other night (versus Yelm), maybe I should’ve put her in,” Boback said. “When we lose, I blame myself. When we win, it’s the players. Our other guards have had a hard time shutting down point guards.”
The Tides may need to win out to extend their season, and that task will start tonight at 7 at South Kitsap (1-7, 5-11). Gig Harbor won the previous matchup, 45-39.
“We’re just thinking that we’re going to come out hard and strong, and we’re just going to give it our best and try to take it,” Alton said of the playoff chase.
“They’ve played so tough, and they’ve worked so hard,” Boback added, “and it would be cool if we could break through that bubble and take that step into districts.”Sports Editor Neil Pierson can be reached at 253-358-4155 or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @gateway_neil.