Birdtail clutch down the stretch as North Thurston knocks off Gig Harbor, 60-55

·4 min read

North Thurston added a bit of intrigue to the final week of the regular season on Friday by avenging its only loss of the year.

The Rams went on the road to beat Gig Harbor, 60-55, and forge a tie at the top of the girls South Sound Conference standings.

“There is something really special about this group,” North Thurston coach Jackie Meyer said. “It definitely was a team effort tonight. We talked about that in the locker room. We need six people to put something in the basket and six people is going to make us win.”

In the end, seven different Rams scored in this one.

But it was senior Tay Birdtail’s three 3-pointers in the final 2 minutes, 51 seconds, that proved the difference between a victory and a defeat. Birdtail scored 11 of her 16 points in the final five minutes of the game after struggling most of the night from the field.

“I knew I had to lock them in for my team,” Birdtail said. “I really wanted to win, so by all means, I gotta do what I gotta do. Calming down in big moments, keeping my composure, is what coach has been telling me all season.”

The first of those 3-pointers gave North Thurston a tenuous 54-53 lead. Tia Berry made one of two free throws for Gig Harbor (12-2 overall, 11-1 SSC) to tie the game again at 54-54 with 2:11 to play.

But then on the next two possessions for the Rams (15-1, 11-1), Birdtail stepped into 3-pointers that staked North Thurston to a 60-54 lead with 1:10 left.

“Those were clutch,” Gig Harbor coach Mike Guinasso said. “That’s the difference between a freshman and a senior. The mentality that the next one is going in.”

While now tied in the conference standings, the Tides do still control their own destiny for the post-season with two games remaining for each of these teams in the regular season. Should both beat Yelm and River Ridge next week (the teams play the same two opponents to finish out the regular season conference schedule), Gig Harbor would be the No. 1 seed by virtue of a tie-breaking card draw that already has taken place.

“I didn’t tell the girls until after the game,” Guinasso said. “We drew a five, I think, and they drew a seven. We had a couple of people that were not in a good spot. But we’re okay now.”

A Tides victory on Friday would have made it all moot, as a sweep of North Thurston would have locked up the SSC title and the top seed to the district tournament. Now, Gig Harbor likely needs to win both games to be sure they stay in that top spot.

North Thurston opened both halves of the game on Friday with big runs. Freshman Soraya Ogaldez was a dominating presence for the Rams, scoring 15 points in the first eight minutes of the game as North Thurston raced to a 17-8 lead after one quarter.

Ogaldez finished the half with 19 of her team-high 21 points in the first half. But even she couldn’t keep Gig Harbor from jumping back into the game as the Tides closed out the second quarter with a 15-4 run of their own to tie it at the break, 30-30.

“Totally different,” Meyer said of having Ogaldez in the lineup. Her scoring guard was one of three starters to miss the first game against Gig Harbor earlier this season – a 60-50 Tides victory. “And we knew that coming in. She has the ability to take over the game when she wants to take over the game.”

Ogaldez proved not to be the only one with takeover abilities on Friday. After the Rams opened the third quarter with another 9-0 spurt, Taylor Schwab shot Gig Harbor back into it, scoring all 14 of the Tides points in the quarter including a long 3-pointer with two seconds left in the third that gave Gig Harbor a 44-43 lead entering the final eight minutes.

She finished with a game-high 23 points.

The Tides extended that advantage to six, 51-45, on a basket by Riley Peschek with 5:34 to go. But Gig Harbor missed seven of 10 free throws in the fourth quarter, including the front ends of two one-and-ones.

North Thurston took advantage at the other end – especially Birdtail.

“I just relaxed myself, and my teammates,” Birdtail said. “We got it all together and locked them in. We’ve never been to state in 30 years. That’s the goal, to get to the Dome. It means so much to just, like, everyone at North Thurston.”

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