SEDRO-WOOLLEY - Based purely off seeding, Mount Baker had the clear route to the Class 1A Northwest District Championship game.
Lynden Christian, on the other hand, was the No. 6 seed, having to first knock off No. 2 Coupeville and then No. 3 Blaine to earn its spot in the title game.
It was a lofty challenge for the Lyncs, especially having to take on a Borderite team that beat them 9-7 the last time the two met.
But the postseason has a way of washing away the past, and Lynden Christian showed that, defeating Coupeville 15-7 and then Blaine 5-1 on Friday, May 16, at Janicki Fields in Sedro-Woolley, earning a matchup with the Mountaineers in the Class 1A Northwest District Championship game beginning at 2 p.m., Saturday, May 17, at the same location.
"The girls have been ramping up for this opportunity and this moment since March 3," LC coach Mitch Moorlag said. "We have seven seniors, and all of them start, so for them to be playing in the championship, it's huge for them."
Mount Baker cruised through its two games, defeating Friday Harbor 16-3 in the first round, then handing rival Nooksack Valley an 8-1 loss in the semifinals.
The Pioneers are still alive despite the loss, moving on to the consolation semis where they will play for a spot in tri-districts. They advanced into the semifinals after defeating Coupeville 16-4 in the first round. Likewise, Blaine will move into the consolation bracket after defeating Meridian 18-2 in its opening-round game.
Both teams will play at noon Saturday.
For Mount Baker, it was business as usual for starting pitcher Aleks Toivola, who allowed just the four runs in 12 innings of work, three of which came off a Friday Harbor home run.
"I expect her to be perfect every time, and she's not going to be, but she battled up there," Mount Baker coach Ron Lepper said. "We played some good defense behind her, and we got out of some situations."
Toivola allowed just the one run to Nooksack Valley off an RBI single by Cassidy Zylstra in the sixth. Other than that, the Pioneers managed just five hits as a team, and rarely were able to get runners past second base.
"When she hits her spots, she's tough," said Nooksack Valley coach Tom Harmon of Toivola. "We kind of dug ourselves a hole there."
Mount Baker built up a seven-run lead after plating three runs in the third inning and four in the fourth. Timely hitting was the key to getting to Pioneers starter Kayla Struiksma. Emma Lallas' two-run home run in the bottom of the third kick-started the offense, but it was consecutive two-out hits by Sara Verry, Jordan Miles, Lacey Postlewait and Chyanna Ortloff in the bottom of the fourth that saw the lead grow to 7-0.
"We were able to get some clutch hits with two outs, and we were able to get a cushion, which was nice," Lepper said.
Harmon also made note of the key four-hit rally.
"They got four hits in a row, and the next thing you know we're down seven," he said.
Like Mount Baker, Lynden Christian rode the performance of its starting pitcher to get into the championship game.
Kasey Luna scattered just seven Blaine hits, giving up the one run to keep the Borderite bats at bay. She also scored the Lyncs' first run in the top of the first, giving Lynden Christian an early lead it wouldn't relinquish.
The game against Blaine also proved to be a redeeming performance for Luna, who struggled in the opening game against Coupeville, allowing all seven runs in the first inning.
"I just knew I struggled trusting my defense," said Luna of her first outing. "I just knew they were behind me, so I tried to throw it anywhere (Coupeville) could hit it. ... I knew they would always be there for me, so it made me more comfortable."
Luna got some help from Shelby Brown, who hit an inside-the-park home run that created a controversial play at the plate. Brown slid into Blaine's Lexi Greguski, who received the relay and placed the tag on the LC third baseman in the sixth inning. The two came in almost simultaneously, with the umpire ruling Brown had beaten the tag.
"That was kind of a split-second decision" Moorlag said. "It was two outs again. Their pitcher was pitching a heck of a ball game. Hits were hard to come by, and I thought, 'You know what? Here's a chance to score maybe one more insurance run.' It was going to take a perfect relay throw to throw her out, so we just gambled a little bit and it paid off today."
LC would add two more runs in the top of the seventh to seal the win and the championship game berth.
All four NWC teams made their way through the first round with ease.
Blaine's 18-2 win over Meridian saw Greguski drive in two RBI, with both McElwain and Selena Rogers-Pai plating four.
In LC's win over Coupeville, Livi Vander Griend went 3 for 5 with three RBI, and Lexi Holleman had a double and three RBI, as well.
The Pioneers' 16-4 win over South Whidbey was a show in plate discipline, with Nooksack Valley scoring most of its runs off walks.
Lallas led Mount Baker in the first-round win over Friday Harbor with four RBI, and Tara Chambers and Miles both had two RBI apiece.
Reach Alex Bigelow at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-715-2238. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for other Whatcom County sports updates.
MOUNT BAKER 8, NOOKSACK VALLEY 1
Nooksack Valley 000 001 0 - 1 5 1
Mount Baker 003 401 X - 8 9 0
WP - Aleks Toivola; L- Kayla Struiksma; Highlights: Nooksack Valley: Chloe Gardner 1-3 R, Cassidy Zylstra 1-3 RBI. Alexis Pike 1-3. Mount Baker: Emma Lallas 2-3 2R HR, Aleks Toivola 2-4 RBI, Jordan Miles 2-3 3B.
LYNDEN CHRISTIAN 5, BLAINE 1
Lynden Christian 200 001 2 - 5 5 1
Blaine 000 010 0 - 1 7 2
WP - Kasey Luna; L- Alexis McElwain; Highlights: Lynden Christian: Kasey Luna 1-3 R RBI, Lexi Vander Griend 1-3 R, Shelby Brown 1-4 HR. Blaine: Lexi Greguski 1-4 2B, Riley Miller 1-3 2B RBI, Daphne Pugh 1-2 R.
NOOKSACK VALLEY 16, SOUTH WHIDBEY 4 (4)
South Whidbey 301 0 - 4 9 1
Nooksack Valley 042 10 - 16 7 0
WP: Kayla Struiksma (n/a). LP: Kacie Hanson (n/a). Highlights: Nooksack Valley: Lindsay Hayes 4 BB; Olivia Burkan 1-3, 1 RBI, 1 2b; Maddi Myher 2-2, 1 BB.
BLAINE 18, MERIDAN 2 (4)
Meridian 000 2 - 2 2 5
Blaine 169 2 - 18 13 3
WP: Alexis McElwain (n/a). LP: Eve Castro (n/a). Highlights: Blaine: Alexis McElwain 3-4, 4 RBI, 2 2b; Baylee Foster 2-2, 1 RBI; Selena Pai 2-4, 2 RBI. Meridian: Kendra Holmes 1-3, 1 R.
LYNDEN CHRISTIAN 15, COUPEVILLE 7
Lynden Christian 303 007 2 - 15 15 1
Coupeville 700 000 0 - 7 6 3
WP: Kasey Luna (n/a). LP: Baley (n/a). Highlights: Lynden Christian: Kasey Luna 2-5, 1 RBI; Shelby Brown 3-4; Livi VanderGriend 3-5, 3 RBI.
MOUNT BAKER 16, FRIDAY HARBOR 3 (5)
Friday Harbor 300 00- 3 x x
Mount Baker 810 7x- 16 15 4
WP: Aleks Toivola (n/a). LP: n/a (n/a). Highlights: Mount Baker: Emma Lallas 2-4, 1 R, 4 RBI, 1 3b; Emily Yost 2-4, 3 R, 1 RBI; Sara Verry 3-4, 2 R, 3 RBI.