Niles’ D’Amico reflects on season, looks ahead

Published 8:17 am Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Niles senior Maya Brookins goes in for two against Portage Central Monday night. (Leader photo/AMELIO RODRIGUEZ)

Niles senior Maya Brookins goes in for two against Portage Central Monday night. (Leader photo/AMELIO RODRIGUEZ)

Aspirations were elevated when Niles opened the 2015-16 girls basketball season.

The Vikings had gone 14-8 the previous winter in Phil D’Amico’s first campaign as head coach and virtually everyone was back from that squad.

But Niles ran into plenty of bumps along the way, including players missing time with injuries, and wound up 7-14. The season wrapped up Monday with a 58-32 loss to Portage Central in the first round of the Class A Niles District.

“I really feel bad for the girls,” D’Amico said after a setback to a team the Vikings beat 41-35 in early January. “They worked really hard in the second half. We don’t want to go out this way. It’s tough to take.”

D’amico said the finality will probably take a day or two sink in.

“It wasn’t the year any of us wanted or expected,” D’Amico said. “We really, really struggled all year to score.”

Whether it was technique, scheme or a combination, the coach saw that his team had trouble getting rolling with the basketball throughout the season.

“Our offensive rhythm and flow is something we just never accomplished,” D’Amico said. “We are going to look at all of those things for next season and find out who some of the best players are to put in those positions. We have to re-evaluate everything at this point.”

Niles scored more than 45 points in a game just twice all season. On Monday, the Vikings did not score a first-half field goal and were down 30-12 at halftime. PC pounded the ball inside for some early easy points and Niles never really recovered.

“We were really tight and it showed on the offensive end,” D’Amico said. “I don’t know if (Portage Central) did anything defensively that we got caught off-guard with, we just couldn’t score. We missed a lot of shots.”

Portage Central coach Rob Brown saw the Vikings turn up the physical play after halftime, but his team held steady.

“The second half got a little frantic and up-and-down,” Portage Central coach Rob Brown said. “In the first half, we did a really nice job on defense and making (Niles) work for everything.

“Our gameplan was to stop all the penetration and make them hit shots.”

Portage Central made 10-of-18 field goal attempts in the first half and finished shooting 52 percent from the field (21-of-38).

A balanced attack for the Mustangs, which earned the right to play St. Joseph in the second semifinal today (following Kalamazoo Central vs. Mattawan at 5:30 p.m.), saw senior Broghan Gamble score 23 points, junior MacKenzie Pikkaart 13 and senior Sierra Easter 12.

“That was — by far — Broghan Gamble’s best offensive game (of the season),” Brown said after watching the guard net nine in the first quarter and 13 in the first half.

Niles got eight points each from Jazmin Brann and Maya Brookins. Brann pulled down 11 rebounds.

The Vikings finished the season on a three-game losing streak.

Four of Monday’s five starters — seniors Jazmin Brann, Antonia Palmer, Elyse Zimmerman and junior Emily Gaines — all missed time with injuries during the campaign. Graduation will also take starter Brookins plus Tegan Bays.

D’Amico will work with the girls returning to the program, including taking some to camps at the end of the school year.

It will all be in an effort to turn things around.

“This is the worst part. It’s reflection,” D’Amico said. “You have to look deep and really figure out what we need to do. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”