With Savannah Reimer (23) trailing, Gulf Coast point guard Mya Giusto (3) brings the ball upcourt against Toledo-Rogers' Zia Cooke during the third-place game of the Naples Holiday Shootout on Saturday, Dec. 29, at Gulf Coast High School. GREGG HARDY/CSI
As it moves to the ‘19’ portion of its 2018-19 schedule, the Gulf Coast High School girls basketball team finds itself in a strange place: a loser of two straight games and three of its last four.
(The last time coach Mark Woodruff’s squad lost two in a row was at the end of the 2015-16 season when a gifted freshman named Yasmeen Chang, while playing for Riverdale, dropped 31 points on the Sharks in the Class 8A-District 12 title game. That was the second loss in a season-ending three-game skid for Gulf Coast.)
It’s hard to claim a moral victory having surrendered 80-plus points in a home loss (especially after losing by 36 the night before). Yet, Woodruff said there was a lot for the Sharks to hang their hat on Saturday as they closed out the 16-team Naples Holiday Shootout (that Gulf Coast hosted) with an 81-66 loss to defending Ohio state champion Toledo-Rogers.
Trailing by 22 points in the second half and playing with only two reserves (both JV call-ups), Gulf Coast cut Rogers’ lead down to 11 with still over five minutes to play before running out of gas.
“You’re never happy with a loss, but last night after the lack of effort we gave (in a 63-27 loss to St. Thomas Aquinas, which ended up winning the Shootout’s National Division title that Gulf Coast won last year) … we just wanted to come out and compete,” Woodruff said. “You’re playing a team that won a state championship in Ohio last year who has, according to the rankings, the best guard in the country (Zia Cooke). … You don’t get these type of opportunities, and they responded.”
The Sharks did respond — pretty well, in fact — considering they were without Chang (who, after leaving Riverdale, is in her third season as Gulf Coast’s top scorer and last month signed to play at the University of Miami) and emerging freshman post player Reese Tremitiere.
(Would Rogers have hung 81 points on Gulf Coast with Chang’s ball-hawking ways and the tough interior defense that Tremitiere has played thus far? Likely not.)
Chang (knee) and Tremitiere (ankle) were joined on the Gulf Coast bench Saturday by Sydney Eugene. The senior standout defender — who, back in November, signed to play for Bridgewater College — spent her 18th birthday watching helplessly from the end of the bench as Cooke did whatever she wanted against the Sharks. Eugene’s senior season was cut short by a serious knee injury suffered Dec. 12. She had surgery Thursday.
Woodruff confirmed that Eugene — whom he always charged with guarding the other team’s best player — would have been on Cooke, the University of South Carolina recruit who’s rated as the nation’s seventh-best player. Cooke finished with 18 points (on 8 of 14 shooting), six rebounds, five assists and four steals.
Asked after the game how well she would have guarded Cooke, you could see Eugene’s wheels turning.
She said, “I think I could’ve … I’m not going to say shut her down … but I think I could’ve played good defense against her — probably hold her to like 10 points maybe. I don’t think I would’ve let her get as many rebounds, as many shots as she did. Honestly, I think I would do an iso on her … just so she wouldn’t get the ball so I could contain her more.”
Offensively, the Sharks played well Saturday. Scoring 66 points without Chang is a big deal — she’s averaging around 20 points per game in her two-plus seasons as a Shark. Savannah Reimer (game-high 21 points), Mya Giusto (20 points) and Marina Hodo (19 points) all scored well above their season averages against the Rams.
Giusto, who scored a game-high 25 points in Thursday’s 64-56 opening-round win over Sacred Heart Academy (Louisville, Ky.), was named to the all-tournament team along with Cooke.
Woodruff was happy that Reimer — “a great player,” he said, “who doesn’t get a lot of publicity because of the other players we have” — got to show off her talents to some of the college coaches who were scouting at the Shootout.
Reimer knocked down five 3-pointers en route to a game-high 21 points Saturday. She came out firing — hitting four treys in the game’s first three minutes — to keep the Sharks within five points of the Rams after one quarter.
In reality, Gulf Coast is trying to replace two standout players this season: Eugene and Jordan Cloutier, a lethal 3-point shooter who graduated last spring.
Woodruff knows the Sharks will need more of Reimer’s 3-point shooting if they’re going to contend for the state title that’s eluded them since Chang, Giusto, Eugene and Cloutier joined the team in the fall of 2016. (Prior to enrolling at Gulf Coast, Giusto, Eugene and Cloutier attended Community School of Naples.)
“You can’t really rely on Mya to (shoot — and make — 3s consistently) because she’s so preoccupied with running the offense, so it’s a huge role for Savannah,” Woodruff said. “She started out really hot this year, (then) cooled off a little bit, so it’s nice to see her kind of picking her stroke back up.
“She was upset with how she performed last night (against Aquinas), and she’s a competitor so she wanted to come out today and show people the real Savannah Reimer — and she did that.”
Gulf Coast will be back in action Friday when it visits Naples High. The Sharks will travel to the east coast to take part in the SUTS tournament.
Her playing days as a Shark may be over, but as far as Woodruff is concerned, Eugene can still play a major role for Gulf Coast.
“Honestly, I don’t know if we lose the way we lost (Friday against Aquinas) if she was on the bench,” Woodruff said. “She holds kids accountable. People wouldn’t have been slacking off like they were last night with her here. As a coach, they’ll tune you out every once in a while, but when it’s coming from their peers and people they respect in their daily lives, it means a lot more.”
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