Jamaal Sanders’ two best players Thursday made the design of Bayshore High School’s final play against Tampa Sickles in the third-place game of the Lady Ram Jam Holiday Tournament simple.
The inbound pass went to Jasmine Youngthunder in the right corner. The senior had been effective at getting to the high post and creating from there, and Sanders wanted to put decision-making responsibilities in her hands.
Alexus Norman positioned herself near the basket. The other senior had been a handful for Sickles in the paint at Riverview High School, and if the ball found its way to her, Sanders had confidence she could finish.
With less than six seconds left, Youngthunder made her way toward the rim and pulled the Gryphon defense toward her. Norman slid to the open space to grab Youngthunder’s dump off. With the clock racing toward zeroes, she banked in the game-winner, giving the Bruins a 51-50 win as time expired.
“That’s what we drew up and it worked. It’s rare that happens,” Sanders joked.
A year after finishing dead last in the eight-team field in Sarasota, Bayshore (5-5) hoisted the third-place trophy at the Lady Ram Jam because of Youngthunder and Norman. The two seniors combined for 39 points and 17 rebounds to pull the Bruins back to .500 entering the holiday break.
Bayshore will be back on the court for another holiday tournament next week. The Bruins return to Bradenton for the Smoothie King Classic from Dec. 27-29.
The run of six games in two weeks will give the Bruins an opportunity to jell entering the new year. Youngthunder, who was named to the Ram Jam all-tournament team Thursday, is in her first year with the team after spending last winter training at IMG Academy. In only a couple of months, she’s become a foundational piece for Bayshore and has built a particular rapport with Norman — the two have been volleyball teammates the past two falls.
“Once she gets used to it,” Sanders said of Youngthunder, “we’ll be a lot better team.”
Youngthunder helped keep them afloat early during the third-place game. Sanders left three of his starters on the bench for the start of the game for disciplinary reasons and the Bruins failed to score for more than six minutes to start. Youngthunder, who finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds, broke the drought with a free throw with 1:27 left in the opening period and Bayshore trailed 10-4 at the end of the frame.
We haven't been playing good offensive ball. We’ll have one good game and then we'll have three or four bad games playing offensive ball. Our defense has to win it for us.
Jamaal Sanders, Bayshore head coach
When the three starters, including Norman, returned to the floor, the Bruins rallied, finally taking a 32-31 lead with 1:10 left in the third quarter.
But Sickles (7-8) answered with a 10-0 run to build a 41-32 lead with about five minutes remaining. Bayshore’s hope to turn a last-place finish into a trophy-worthy performance dimmed.
“We have to at least make it somewhere,” Norman said the team thought before the tournament began Tuesday. “We have to at least get a trophy.”
They earned it with a 13-4 stretch highlighted by two Haley Sauve 3-pointers that knotted the score at 45 and set up a back-and-forth final three minutes.
Forward Julie Moreau hit a hook shot for the Gryphons and Norman answered with two free throws. Guard Andrea Villanueva put Sickles back ahead with a free throw, and Youngthunder reclaimed the lead for Bayshore with a cut and layup with less than 31.9 seconds remaining.
The Bruins defensive stand lasted more than 20 seconds before Jacquelyn Levay finally drew a foul for the Gryphons with less than nine seconds on the clock. The guard sunk both of her free throws to put Sickles back ahead, and set up the final connection between Youngthunder and Norman.
“It was,” said Norman, who finished with 23 points and seven rebounds, “pretty much anything that would work at that point.”