Logan coach Kevin Gertz makes a point in the semifinal win.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kevin Gertz knows he's playing with house money.The Logan coach has already beaten the Grim Reaper. He's about to break the casino's bank.Gertz suffered a heart attack during quadruple bypass surgery in which his heart stopped late last summer, and now he has his Wildcats on one of the most remarkable runs in girls high school basketball state tournament history.The fifth-seeded Wildcats knocked off No. 1 Spring Valley 52-49 in Friday's Class AAA semifinals on senior guard Hannah Tothe's last-second 3-pointer to advance to their first state championship game. Logan will face Parkersburg South at 7:15 tonight in the title showdown.Logan picked up its first state tournament game in school history in Thursday's quarterfinals over No. 4 Princeton."My life has changed, there's no doubt about it,'' said Gertz. "I took my life for granted and now I don't. This has been the time of my life. I got a second chance at life.''Gertz, who was cleared to coach this season just before practice started in November, still isn't 100 percent. After the first half of Friday's semis he had to sit down on a chair in the hallway before eventually making his way to the locker room. Civic Center staffers were concerned enough to have paramedics check him out."I'm struggling,'' said the 45-year-old former Logan baseball and basketball standout. "It took me until about the six-minute mark to get in the locker room at halftime. I'm not doing great. I get extremely tired. I don't have all my strength back, but I'm healthier now than I've been in 15 or 20 years.
"We're going to make it through today and then I'm going to get myself checked out because I'm not where I should be to coach this way. I'm so proud of my girls. I've played ball all my life and I've never been part of a game like [Friday's].''Gertz started feeling bad in early September and finally went to the doctor after a couple of episodes that resembled heart attacks."I had lost maybe 120 pounds not trying,'' he said. "They put in a quadruple bypass and while they were doing the last one I had a heart attack on the table and flat-lined. "I was flat for what they said was probably around 30 seconds.''Gertz wanted nothing more than to get back on the sidelines as soon as possible.
"I knew that the only thing I wanted to do was coach,'' he said. "Coaching is my life. I don't see my wife ever. This coaching takes me away from my son. We make it work.''The fun-loving Gertz said he has used his near-death experience to prod his players. "Every time one of my girls gets hurt or tired I tell them, 'Hell, you didn't flat-line,' '' laughed the coach. "I make them feel bad and it makes them work harder and work through it. I think they're getting tired of hearing it. I don't think I can use it anymore.''
Logan's girls program has always been in the shadows of the ultra-successful Wildcats boys team, which has won seven state championships. The girls are making only their third appearance ever at states, including the inaugural event in 1976.When Gertz took over the Wildcats three years ago they were coming off a four-win season and the senior class had won just 13 games total. "I knew we'd be good,'' he said. "I didn't know we'd be this good. We're not the best team in the state, but on any given night I think we can beat anybody. I push these girls harder than they've ever been pushed in their life, but I love these girls."Logan 5-foot-11 sophomore guard Shayna Gore has emerged as one of the top players in the state. She shined in her first game on the Civic Center court Thursday with 36 points, just seven shy of tying the AAA single-game record, and turned in 17 points, six assists and four steals in Friday's semis.Add freshman 6-2 center Monica Mitchell, who has turned in a double-double in the first two tourney games, along with Tothe's experience and sophomore guard Kyra Cline, who has guarded the opposition's top scorers during the tournament run, and the Wildcats are a tough out."We've got a point guard that can get to the basket on anybody,'' Gertz said. "We've got a big that the only person I've seen stop her is her. And I've got two phenomenal shooters. It's hard to defend us.''
Gertz doesn't know how much longer this ride will continue, but he's having a blast."This run has been unbelievable,'' he said.Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at firstname.lastname@example.org
">email@example.com or 304-348-4811.