SEDRO-WOOLLEY - Trust in each other has been Nooksack Valley's signature phrase all season.
The Pioneers softball team rallied when they needed to in extra innings against Lynden Christian Friday, May 10, and they once again banded together against Mount Baker late to capture a Class 1A Northwest District title with a 3-2 win on a scorching hot Saturday afternoon, May 11, at Janicki Playfields in Sedro-Woolley.
The win gives Nooksack Valley an automatic state berth - its 12th straight, senior Brittney Allen said.
"I think the key today was to trust each other," senior shortstop McKinna Larson said. "Our team is good. We've been good since day one, but our problem was trusting each other, and just in this last week, we've figured out if we don't trust each other, we aren't going to get anywhere."
Nooksack Valley coach Tom Harmon echoed Larson's words.
"What they've developed in the last week or two is their ability to play through stuff," said the Pioneers coach. "We started finally getting comfortable being uncomfortable. Our moniker for the year has been trust, and this game can really shake your trust."
Nooksack Valley has found ways to come out on top when the games are on the line during its last two matchups, and senior third baseman Allen has pulled the Pioneers through both times.
Allen hit a walk-off double against LC last game, and this time she drove in Larson to give Nooksack Valley a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the sixth with an eventual game-winning base hit off Mount Baker ace Aleks Toivola with two outs and a runner on second.
"I wasn't being picky," Allen said. "I just knew I needed to get a clutch hit somewhere, so it was just whatever was close to my ideal pitch, and I went for it. It just so happened to be a clutch hit, and that's what I was trying for. ... I was hitting for the team."
Mountaineers shortstop Megan Young had play on the hard-hit grounder, but she ranged to her right and couldn't quite scoop the ball up before it rolled into left field.
Toivola didn't allow Nooksack Valley many hits, but base knocks by Haley Hunt, Lindsay Hayes and Melanie Brown gave the Pioneers a 2-0 lead in the top of the third.
Hunt record a single followed by an RBI double from Hayes. Brown drove in Hayes from second with a key two-out RBI.
Clutch hits were something Mount Baker desperately needed but never received. The Mountaineers had a runner at third base in both the second and third inning, but Baker couldn't get a timely hit.
"We just couldn't get a clutch hit when we needed it," Mountaineers coach Ron Lepper said. "That was the whole thing. We put pressure on in the first couple innings, had girls on base in scoring positions but couldn't get that one hit to kind of break it open."
Nooksack Valley used its pitching tandem of Kayla Struiksma and Alexis Pike. They combined to give up two unearned runs on seven hits.
Mount Baker took advantage of an errant throw by Larson with some heads-up base running by Aysha Schwinden to tie the game at 2-2 in the top of the sixth.
Emily Brandland hit a ground ball to Larson, who threw high to first baseman Laura Gelwicks. The senior corner infielder was pulled off the bag and couldn't tag Brandland in time for the third out. Emily Yost scored from third, and while the Nooksack Valley infield was trying to figure out if Brandland was safe or not, Schwinden hustled all the way from second to beat a tag at the plate by Pioneers catcher Lauren Dykstra.
"We got that to tie it up, because there was a little confusion at first on what was going to happen," Lepper said. "It was just a real heads-up play for us."
Unfortunately for Baker, its lead lasted just a half inning after Allen scored Larson in the bottom of the sixth.
Mount Baker leadoff batter Lacey Postlewait went 3 for 4 with three singles, and Yost and Schwinden each went 1 for 3 with a run scored, as the Mountaineers earned the No. 2 seed heading into Class 1A Tri-District Tournament.
Blaine and Lynden Christian both won their second round consolation games, advancing four Whatcom County schools to tri-districts.
Lexi Greguski went 4 for 4 against LC, and Selena Pai, Mikayla Ortega and Nicole Deming each recorded multi-hit games to help the Borderites beat the Lyncs 6-4 to clinch the No. 3 seed, while Lynden Christian captured the fourth and final seed.
Blaine rebounded from a tough semifinal loss to Mount Baker Friday, May 10, by beating Coupeville 9-5 to clinch its tri-district spot Saturday morning, May 11, before it beat LC.
"For my team to play the way they did today for each other and for me, it says a lot about this group of girls," Blaine coach Alisa Burk said. "We don't play for a team. We play as a team, and everyone contributed today."
Ashley Bolick pitched for Blaine in the first game, leading the Borderites to a win, and Lexi McElwain and Hanna Kiele combined to throw the second game.
Lynden Christian, which won only two Northwest Conference games during the regular season, finished the year winners of two of its last three, and the Lyncs maintained their strong play in the district tournament during the two-day span.
LC first beat No. 2 seed Coupeville before losing to Nooksack Valley in extra innings Friday, May 10. Lynden Christian then rallied late to earn a come-from-behind victory, preserving its season with a 9-5 win against South Whidbey Saturday morning, May 11, after the Lyncs trailed 5-0 at one point.
"To be able to come back from that, it just showed the fortitude our kids have had and worked with all year," LC coach Mitch Moorlag said. "It's not over until the last pitch, and we've been preaching that and preaching that and preaching that."
Blaine's three-run third inning cost Lynden Christian after the Lyncs took an early lead against the district's No. 1-seeded team, but Moorlag was thrilled to see his club coming together at the right time of the year.
"We've been in almost every game this year, and we play in a tough, tough conference," Moorlag said. "(We said) they have to stay confident, stay together and good things will happen towards the end of the season."
The first round of the Class 1A Tri-District Tournament begins at 4 p.m. Wednesday, May 15, when LC travels to play District 3's No. 4 seed in a loser-out game.
Reach Andrew Lang at email@example.com or call 360-756-2862.
NOOKSACK VALLEY 3, MOUNT BAKER 2
Mount Baker 000 020 0 - 2 7 0
Nooksack Valley 002 001 x - 3 5 2
WP: Kayla Struiksma. LP: Aleks Toivola. Highlights: NV: Lindsay Hayes 1-2, 2B, RBI, R; Melanie Brown 1-3; McKinna Larson 1-3, R. MB: Lacey Postlewait 3-4; Emily Yost 1-3, R; Aysha Schwinden 1-3, R.
BLAINE 6, LYNDEN CHRISTIAN 4
Lynden Christian 102 001 0 - 4 9 5
Blaine 113 010 x - 6 14 3
WP: Lexi McElwain. LP: Karley De Jager. Highlights: Bla: Lexi Greguski 4-4, R, RBI; Selena Pai 2-4; Nicole Ortega 2-2, 2 BB, SB; Mikayla Deming 2-4. LC: Lexi Vander Griend1-3, Bridget Kruck 2-3, BB, RBI, R.
Reach ANDREW LANG at firstname.lastname@example.org or call ext. 862.