If Zach Toglia had a dollar for every time that he heard he looks like his older brother, Michael, he might be approaching enough cash to buy that fancy HGTV Dream Home on Henderson Bay.
Zach Toglia, a freshman at Gig Harbor High School, does indeed bear an uncanny resemblance to his older brother Michael, now a sophomore star baseball player at UCLA, and one of the best all-around athletes the high school has ever produced.
“I hear it a ton, all around the school,” Toglia said. “People who know him and (Sebastian Toglia, a junior at GHHS) always say I look the most like Michael.”
While the eldest Toglia sibling was primarily focused on baseball, he had a natural ability on the basketball court, also. By his senior year, Michael was 6-foot-5, averaging 20 points per game and snagging rebounds with ease.
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“Michael was a really good athlete who could score,” said Gig Harbor basketball coach Billy Landram. “Physically, they look alike as when they were freshmen, but Zach is definitely his own person.”
The physical resemblance is where it ends, when comparing the two. While Michael was more of a stretch four, who scored the majority of his points in the paint and rounded out his game with a solid midrange game, Zach is much more of a traditional guard.
“He has put a lot of time into basketball, developing his skills and it shows,” Landram said.
Toglia started the season on the junior varsity team, but it didn’t take long for the varsity squad to come calling. Toglia debuted for the varsity squad during the team’s winter tournament in Florida and impressed the coaching staff. For the past month, he’s been starting.
“We’re just trying to give him what he can handle,” Landram said. “The speed of the game is usually hard to adjust to for freshmen. But he did a good job with that. And just the physicality, playing against 18 year olds. As he’s progressed, we’re trying to keep pushing him. He does a good job of playing within himself. A lot of kids will try to do too much and then negative things happen. He doesn’t really do that. He’s very solid and he keeps expanding. Each game, he’s being more and more aggressive.”
Toglia is averaging 3.9 points per game and shooting 32 percent from three. In his past three games, he tallied 21 points and shot 50 percent from three.
“It’s been a really cool experience,” Toglia said. “Not too many freshman get to play on varsity. I’ve had the chance to prove what I’ve got and it’s been a really fun experience. As a freshman, I’m the youngest, so I have to work the hardest. I’ve been doing the best I can hustling the most and trying to prove myself to the coach.”
Most freshmen would be in over their heads, trying to adjust to the high school game. But that work ethic — trying to outwork everyone else — is something Landram saw in Michael, too.
“They compete,” Landram said of the Toglia siblings. “They want to be the best. They do things the right way. They’re not afraid of hard work. It shows in their results.”
Michael’s shadow looms large over Zach. Michael was named to the Freshman All-American Team at UCLA by Collegiate Baseball. He ranked in the top 10 in the Pac-12 in home runs and walks, hit .261 with 33 runs scored and was second on the team with 33 RBIs, totaled 21 extra-base hits and was second on the team with eight home runs and 11 doubles. By all scouting accounts and projections, he has a realistic shot to play in the big leagues after college.
At Gig Harbor High, he was the 2016 Class 4A Narrows League Most Valuable Player for baseball and was named to The News Tribune’s All-Area Team. And on top of that, he was nearly unstoppable on the basketball court as a senior at Gig Harbor, too.
For Zach, those are some big shoes to fill.
“It’s been hard,” Toglia said. “He had a really good senior year. But I haven’t really been trying to match him at this point. I’m doing my best.”
Playing with older, bigger and more physically mature kids doesn’t seem to be a problem for the youngest Toglia. He can probably thank Michael and Sebastian for that, beating Zach up in backyard games as he was growing up.
“It’s always competitive,” Toglia said. “They’re always picking on me, trying to make me stronger. It has really helped. I would always play basketball with them and all the other guys, just getting beat up and trying my best. It has made me a better player.”
While Toglia has been a bright spot for the Tides, the team is young and has struggled this season, posting a 2-8 record in the Class 3A South Sound Conference. But the fact that the team is probably a year away from contending hasn’t been the reason Toglia has been in the starting lineup, Landram said.
“We’re always playing to win,” Landram said. “If I didn’t think he was one of the kids giving us the best chance to win, I wouldn’t just be giving him free minutes. He’s earned those, just like at the start of the year, he hadn’t proven it to us yet. But he’s one of the kids giving us the best chance to win. We’re trying to win every game.”
Gig Harbor is still scrapping to get into the postseason.
“We’re still contending for that last playoff spot,” Toglia said. “We’ve been working hard in practice. Hopefully we can pull some wins together and make the playoffs.”
But if they don’t, the Tides still return the bulk of their scoring next year.
“I’m really excited,” Toglia said. “We’ll have the experience of those seniors and younger guys coming up. Everyone will get bigger and stronger.”