Pioneers' bats come alive at right time

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 28, 2014 

18 1A SOFT

Nooksack Valley's Lindsay Hayes slides into second base as the ball rolls away from a Friday Harbor player's mitt at the 1A Northwest District Softball Tournament at Janicki Fields on Saturday, May 17, 2014 in Sedro-Woolley, Wash.

ANDY BRONSON — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

Hitting is infectious, both for good and bad.

Nooksack Valley's softball team struggled for much of the season offensively. Poor performance after poor performance compiled atop one another as the pressure built game after game.

Two runs scored against Sedro-Woolley. Two runs against Blaine. One run against Lynden. One run against Mount Baker. No runs against Ferndale. No runs against Sehome.

It was a slump the team couldn't snap out of.

Some, like seniors Lindsay Hayes, Kayla Struiksma and Chloe Gardner, wondered if they would see the streak of 11 consecutive berths into the state tournament continue.

It was a thought none could ignore while the Pioneers meandered around the bottom of the Northwest Conference standings.

"All regular season we struggled a lot, making stupid errors, feeling like this might be the one year we don't get to state," Hayes said in a phone interview. "Kind of nerve wracking. Knew we had to get it done."

Coach Tom Harmon believed his team would come around at some point. The talent was there - he didn't have any question about that - so he waited patiently. And almost in an instant, the Pioneers' offense erupted at the onset of the playoffs.

Eight games - five of which were wins - and 69 runs later, Nooksack Valley is entering its 12th consecutive state tournament riding an offensive wave that saw the Pioneers score in double digits five times.

“Well, the game can be a funny game in that you can be doing things right and not having any positive results, and I think we were going through a time where we knew what we wanted to get done, we just weren’t able to get our timing down,” Harmon said in a phone interview. “Hitting is a contagious thing. Both ways. Contagious in a negative way. But (we) saw Saturday when you’re giving people haircuts … everybody is getting a part of it.”

Nooksack Valley will face Montesano in the opening round of the Class 1A State Softball tournament at 10 a.m. Friday, May 30, at the Columbia Playfield in Richland, Washington.

What the Pioneers couldn't do was string hits together. Momentum was hard to come by, even for standouts like Gardner, an all-Whatcom County performer last year.

Hayes, too, had been struggling at the plate, but all that changed when she launched her first-ever grand slam against Bellevue Christian in a play-in game to start tri-districts.

It was only a matter of time, then, that Gardner would have her own blast to second Hayes'. Blaine and Cedar Park Christian just wished it had come a bit before or after the two faced.

Gardner went 7 for 8 with two home runs - one being a grand slam against the Borderites - in the first two games of tri-districts, propelling Nooksack to a third-place game against Lynden Christian.

"I don't know why my hitting was so awful this season. I sucked it up and I wanted to start hitting," Gardner said in a phone interview. "I wanted to hit the ball so bad."

Struiksma also went deep against Blaine, watching a team hit as one as opposed to looking disjointed and leaving runners on base.

"We have this thing where we say, 'Get a hit and pass it on.' I feel like we've been doing that a lot," Struiksma said in a phone interview. "Chloe hit a grand slam then shortly after I hit a home run. Solid base hits after that. That's the idea of getting a hit and passing it on."

Harmon had the belief in his team. All he sought to do was make things less complicated. In so doing, he freed his team up to be what he thought it could be, he said, and at the right time no less.

Reach Alex Bigelow at alex.bigelow@bellinghamherald.com or call 360-715-2238. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for other Whatcom County sports updates.

UP NEXT

CLASS 1A STATE SOFTBALL TOURNAMENT

NOOKSACK VALLEY VS. MONTESANO

When: 10 a.m. Friday, May 30

Where: Columbia Playfied in Richland, Washington

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