SEDRO-WOOLLEY – Berths into the Class 1A state softball championships were up for grabs, with three Whatcom County schools fighting among a field of eight to get in.
Mount Baker already earned its bid a week earlier after winning the district tournament, but for Nooksack Valley, Blaine and Lynden Christian, how they performed on Saturday, May 24, at Janicki Fields in Sedro-Woolley would answer the looming question as to whether or not they were state-bound.
Turns out Nooksack Valley and Lynden Christian would solidify themselves as such, while Blaine fell in a tough game to Coupeville in a loser-out game, ending the Borderites’ season.
With that, the Mountaineers, Pioneers and Lyncs advance to the Class 1A softball state championships, which will be held May 30-31 at the Columbia Playfields in Richland, Washington.
“I don’t think the smiles are going to be wiped off their faces for a while,” said Lynden Christian coach Mitch Moorlag, following his team’s 8-0 win over Coupeville.
Mount Baker, despite having already sewn up its state spot, fell in the tri-district championship game to Seattle Christian 8-7 in extra innings.
The Mountaineers held a 7-5 lead going into the bottom of the sixth, but the Warriors got back-to-back singles with runners to tie the game, eventually leading to a walk-off double by starting pitcher Lisa Kumasaka in the bottom of the eighth.
“Obviously it doesn’t feel very good right now,”Mount Baker coach Ron Lepper said. “I told the girls I was really proud with the way we competed the whole game. I thought we competed really hard even though we made some mistakes and put ourselves in a little bit of a whole.”
Lacy Postlewait did all she could at the top of the order for Lepper, going 3 for 3 with a double and an inside-the-park home run. Despite the loss, Mount Baker will enter the state tournament a fairly high seed.
The Lyncs battled through three games Saturday, defeating Forest Ridge 12-1 in the opening round, Coupeville 8-0 and then Nooksack Valley 2-1 in the third-place game.
Senior Kasey Luna was dominant for much of the afternoon, allowing just the two runs over 19 innings of work on the day. She’s coming off a strong performance from a week ago when she held Mount Baker to one run in eight innings in the district title game.
“Today was just kind of her day,” Moorlag said. “First game, second game — she just did a fabulous job in the circle, really just got ground ball after ground ball after ground ball, and our defense, I don’t think we’ve made an error yet.”
Luna got some help from her offense, too, with Lexi Vander Griend going 3 for 4 with a run scored in the Lyncs’ win over Coupeville. Luna added two hits and a run scored batting out of the leadoff spot in the winner-to-state game, and followed that up with a 2-for-4 performance in the third-place game.
Lynden Christian, while only posting a 4-8 record in conference, has reeled off five wins over its past six playoff games, outscoring its opponents 42-11 over the span.
“The seniors, since day one, have had their eyes on this part of the season,” he said. “We actually joked that the regular season was our preseason, and the postseason was our regular season. We just were totally eyeing these tournaments and getting ready for this time.”
Nooksack Valley seems to be doing quite the same, peaking during playoffs, looking very far from a club that also finished 4-8 in Northwest Conference play this year.
A big part of the Pioneers’ resurgence has been their offense, which at times struggled this season producing runs. That hasn’t been the case at all since the start of the postseason.
Nooksack Valley, after winning a tri-district play-in game over Bellevue Christian 13-0 on Thursday, May 22, went on to defeat Cedar Park Christian 14-1 in the opening round, Blaine 12-6 in the second round before falling to Lynden Christian 2-1 in the third-place game.
Chloe Gardner, the Pioneers’ All-Whatcom County third basemen, was big for Nooksack Valley at the plate, going a combined 7 for 8 with a grand slam in the first two games.
Her grand slam came at a pivotal point of the winner-to-state game against Blaine when the Pioneers were clinging to a 1-0 lead.
“To get those four (runs) on the board, it was important to lift up the team,” Gardner said. “It’s starting to come alive, and this is the perfect time right before state. Why not? Why not start hitting the ball?”
Gardner said the team’s approach has gone back to the basics, trusting their instincts more so than overthinking the process of hitting.
Whatever it is, it’s working, with Nooksack Valley scoring 40 runs in its four tri-district games.
“The approaches at the plate so far, they’ve been dynamite,” Nooksack Valley coach Tom Harmon said. “Their swings have been dynamite, and their results have been dynamite.”
Saturday didn’t yield the same level of joy from Blaine, which saw its season come to an end after falling to Coupeville 7-4 in a loser-out game.
The Borderites dominated their first game, defeating Vashon Island 32-4 with 12 of their 14 players getting hits. Blaine stumbled against Nooksack Valley, and then couldn’t overcome a fifth-run second inning to Coupeville.
“If we take away that second inning,” Blaine coach Alisa Burke said, “we got that game in the bag.”Lexi Greguski had a home run that Burke said “is probably still going, cleared the fence by 50 feet, never seen a high school player hit it that far.”
Alexis McElwain added to her 4-for-4, six-RBI performance in the first game with two more hits against Coupeville.Greguski also had a home run and three RBI in the win over Vashon Island.
“It’s just been an amazing season,” Burke said. “The amount of heart and passion in these girls is beyond me.”
Reach Alex Bigelow at email@example.com or call 360-715-2238. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for other Whatcom County sports updates.
CLASS 1A TRI-DISTRICT TOURNAMENTAt Janicki Fields in Sedro-WoolleyCHAMPIONSHIP GAMESEATTLE CHRISTIAN 8, MOUNT BAKER 7 (8)Mount Baker 103 003 00 - 7 10 2Seattle Christian 004 012 01 - 8 9 3WP – Lisa Kumasaka; L- Aleks Toivola; Highlights: Mount Baker: Lacy Postlewait 3-3 2B HR BB, Emma Lallas 2-3 2SB R, Heidi Chambers 1-3 3B R.
THIRD-PLACE GAMELYNDEN CHRISTIAN 2, NOOKSACK VALLEY 1Nooksack Valley 010 000 0 - 0 8 0Lynden Christian 110 230 x - 8 8 0WP – Kasey Luna; L- Kayla Struiksma; Highlights: Nooksack Valley: Lexi Pike 2-3 2B, Cassidy Zylstra 2-3 2B. Lynden Christian: Livi Vander Griend 2-3 2B RBI, Kasey Luna 2-4. FIFTH-PLACE GAMECOUPEVILLE 7, BLAINE 4Coupeville 050 101 0 - 7 7 4Blaine 010 021 0 - 4 10 1WP – Baily; L- Alexis McElwain; Highlights: Blaine: Lexi Greguski 2-4 2R HR RBI, Lexi McElwain 2-4, Riley Miller 2-4 RBI.
CONSOLATION SEMIFINALSNOOKSACK VALLEY 12, BLAINE 6Nooksack Valley 050 600 1 - 12 10 2Blaine 003 001 2 - 6 10 2WP – Kayla Struiksma; L- Alexis McElwain; Highlights: Nooksack Valley: Chloe Gardner 3-3 2 HR 5RBI, Kayla Struiksma 1-2 2BB. Blaine: Baylee Foster 3-4 HR 2RBI, Alexis McElwain 2-4 RBI, Selena Rogers-Pai 2-3 2B.
LYNDEN CHRISTIAN 8, COUPEVILLE 0Coupeville 000 000 0 - 0 4 2Lynden Christian 300 230 x - 8 14 0WP – Kasey Luna; L- M. Baily; Highlights: Lynden Christian: Kasey Luna 2-3 R, Lexi Vander Griend 3-4 R SB, Jenah Korthuis 3-3.
FIRST ROUNDLYNDEN CHRISTIAN 12, FOREST RIDGE 1(4)Forest Ridge 001 0xx x - 1 1 3Lynden Christian 444 0xx x - 12 5 0WP – Kasey Luna; L- Colleen Campbell; Highlights: Lynden Christian: Lexi Vander Griend 1-1 2BB 3R, Lexi Holleman 2-3 2B 2SB.
BLAINE 32, VASHON ISLAND 4 (4)Blaine 4 11 12 5xx x -32 21 0Vashon Island 3 1 0 0xx x -4 4 4WP – Alexis McElwain; L- Paige Browne; Highlights: Blaine: Mikayla Deming 3-3 5RBI 3R, Alexis McElwain 4-4 6 RBI, Nicole Ortega 3-4 5 RBI, Lexi Greguski 2-4 HR 3RBI.
NOOKSACK VALLEY 14, CEDAR PARK CHRISTIAN 1 Nooksack Valley 521 016 x - 14 16 1Cedar P. Chr. 100 000 x - 1 5 1WP – Kayla Struiksma; L- Girgus; Highlights: Nooksack Valley: Kayla Struiksma 2-4 HR 2RBI, Chloe Gardner 4-5 RBI 3R, Arlissa Oettel 3-5 2R.