The Northwest Conference proved if anything that softball within the league is thriving. Several teams, including Ferndale (3A), Lynden (2A), Mount Baker (1A), Nooksack Valley (1A) and Lynden Christian (1A), showed the ability to compete at the highest level late in the season, so with that, here’s a look at my three favorite storylines from the year that was.
1. Ferndale makes first-ever state tournamentThe Golden Eagles were dominant throughout the season, winning the Northwest Conference crown with an undefeated 12-0 record, riding that wave all the way to the district championship game against Glacier Peak. And while Ferndale fell to the Grizzlies in a close, hard-fought 3-2 game, in winning its first two games it secured something that eluded the Golden Eagles for years: a berth into the state tournament. Junior pitcher Lauren Maley, paired with the hitting presences of Kadence Kane, Abigail Bauthues and Collette Brown, led the way for Ferndale winning its first game in state, but back-to-back losses saw their trip come to an end. Nevertheless, Ferndale’s 22-4 year and deep run in the playoffs broke new ground for a program coach Holly Hilton will look to guide back there next year with a talented, experience group of returners.
2. Mount Baker making the 1A championship gameJunior pitcher Aleks Toivola, whom Mount Baker coach Ron Lepper long said is someone who will always give his team a chance to win, was phenomenal in the Mountaineers’ run to the 1A state championship game. Her back-to-back shutouts in the first two rounds over Cashmere and Montesano punctuated a late-season finish that saw her pitch maybe as well as she ever has, and at the right time, no less. Offensively, Mount Baker was strong all season. Lepper had a strong foundation of hitters in Lacy Postlewait, Emma Lallas, Emily Yost, Toivola, among others, so the runs always seemed to come, although Elma had the right formula in the title game, winning 6-1. Still, it was a phenomenal run for the Mountaineers, winning a 1A district title en route to finishing second in state.
3. Nooksack Valley and Lynden Christian coming alive lateFew would have guessed that Lynden Christian and Nooksack Valley would make the state tournament when looking at how the two finished the regular season. Both the Pioneers and the Lyncs were 4-8 in NWC play, but that mattered little come the playoffs. Lynden Christian rode the pitching of senior Kasey Luna to the district title game, eventually getting three more strong outings from her in tri-districts before falling in their two games in state. Nooksack Valley, on the other hand, had a more elusive route, battling through two elimination games to earn its respective berth. For the Pioneers, hitting had been a struggle all year. The talent was there, though, and the Pioneers’ coach Tom Harmon knew it. Chloe Gardner, Lindsay Hayes and Kayla Struiksma all led the way, guiding Nooksack Valley to a 2-2 finish at state.