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GIRLS BASKETBALL | Stewart’s clutch free throws secure Wolves’ win
Second opportunities do not always come around in sports.
That is why South Kitsap senior Gabrielle Stewart was grateful for one.
After missing a pair of free throws that could have broken a tie with 20 seconds remaining, Stewart sank two game-clinching attempts from the stripe Wednesday night to secure a 40-38 win against Gig Harbor in Class 4A Narrows League play.
“Oh my gosh, I was so nervous,” Stewart said. “I know my team counts on me and they knew I was going to make those last two.”
The Tides took over with 2.4 seconds remaining and sophomore McKenzie Alton, who scored a game-high 21 points, missed a 3-pointer.
Alton kept a youthful Gig Harbor team that has only one senior on varsity in the lead for most of the contest. She had 15 points at halftime. South coach Mike Hulet said Stewart’s foul problems — she picked up two early in the first quarter — created problems for the Wolves against Alton. With Stewart available during the second half, South was able to adjust its defense.
“The biggest thing is we went to that matchup zone,” Hulet said. “We really didn’t say a lot at halftime. We just reminded the girls that this is the way they play and now you’ve had a taste of it. We just need to be aware of where [Alton] is at all times.”
Despite those challenges, the Wolves (8-5 overall, 4-2 league) trailed just 22-16 entering the second half. While Stewart’s free throws secured the win, South would not have been in that position without senior forward Hayley O’Dell. She scored six of her team-high 12 points in the fourth quarter, including a jumper with 1:44 remaining that gave the Wolves their first lead, 38-36, since the opening period.
“Hayley O’Dell deserves all of the credit in the world,” Hulet said. “She played huge.”
But the Tides (6-8, 1-5) refused to capitulate. After O’Dell go-ahead shot, Anne Gilbert split a pair of free throws. South was unable to corral the rebound, though. That enabled Sydney Bertholf to secure possession, which she translated into making 1 of 2 free throws to tie the game.
“You can see they play right up to the wire,” Hulet said. “There’s no quit in those guys.”
O’Dell believes the Wolves were able to survive that challenge through an effective offense. Both Hulet and O’Dell said the team has rushed shots at times this season, but they were able to avoid that down the stretch.
“I think we just were patient and waited for the right time when we were open,” O’Dell said.
The two-point margin was the closest victory of the season for South. The Wolves first seven wins this season came by an average of nearly 21 points. But South, which has won three of its last four contests, lost 48-45 on Friday against Yelm.
“I think we needed this win and this intensity just to build up our confidence,” O’Dell said. “I think it bonds us as a team because we’re there for each other.”
The Wolves play their final nonleague game of the regular season at 7 p.m. Friday at North Thurston before they begin the second half of 4A Narrows play Wednesday against Bellarmine Prep.
Hulet likes the position the victory puts South in before it enters the final three weeks of the regular season.
“That’s a big win for us,” he said. “That puts us in a pretty good spot.”
At South Kitsap 40, Gig Harbor 38
Gig Harbor 13 9 8 8 - 38
South Kitsap 5 11 11 13 - 40
Gig Harbor-Anne Gilbert 4, Tessa Waage 2, Emily Shields, KJ Keim 4, Sydney Bertholf 1, McKenzie Alton 21, Izzy Turk 6.
South Kitsap-Libby Borgonia 3, Hayley Romo 3, Marybeth Bray 5, Alona Lund 2, Brianna Shafer, Gabrielle Stewart 8, Kayle Yergeau 5, Shannon Laupola 2, Hayley O’Dell 12.