Nooksack Valley’s baseball team arrived at Sehome High School two weeks ago anxiously ready to begin its postseason with a Class 1A Bi-District Tournament opening-round game.
The Pioneers loosened up, but their nerves were evident while waiting for another first-round game between South Whidbey and Overlake to wrap up.
The game went into extra innings, and inning after inning Nooksack Valley could only watch and wait for its turn to take the field. When South Whidbey scored three in the 10th inning the game was surely over, but Overlake matched the run total, prolonging the game once more.
Finally after 14 innings, the Pioneers were able to take the field, but an interesting development took place during Nooksack Valley’s enduring downtime.
“That kind of made us laid back and not worry so much,” Nooksack Valley junior pitcher and third baseman Noah Rawls said in a phone interview. “Also, we kept getting ready, and that made us that much more ready.”
What the Pioneers did that Saturday is history, winning back-to-back games to seal their first state berth since 2007, when they placed third in state.
Now Nooksack Valley (8-15) faces Montesano in a Class 1A State Tournament opening-round game at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 23, at Castle Rock High School.
In some regard this season has been one long waiting game for the Pioneers. They grinded through a Northwest Conference regular season facing predominately larger schools until finally getting the chance to test themselves against equal competition.
Wins and losses — and, yes, there’s been more losses — haven’t defined Nooksack Valley’s season, rather it’s the lessons gleaned from facing stiff competition that has the Pioneers as one of the final 16 teams left in Class 1A.
“It’s kind of when we are playing all the 2As and Ferndale and we kept thinking, ‘Oh, boy, we are right there in all these games,’ Nooksack Valley coach Scott Gelwicks said in a phone interview. “We hung onto little bits and pieces, and knew toward the end of the year when we were back to playing 1A schools we would be competitive.”
That’s exactly what’s happened, although Gelwicks admitted getting players to take positives away from a loss hasn’t always been easy.
“Coach Gelwicks has really done a great job with that for us,” Rawls said. “He’s always thinking about the positives and (has) good energy and has done a good job keeping the team up.”
Among Nooksack Valley’s narrow losses include a 2-1 defeat to Bellingham, a 5-2 loss to Sehome, a 7-3 loss to Ferndale and a 4-2 loss to Anacortes on May 4.
The defeat to Class 2A District 1 champion Anacortes, Gelwicks said, made the Pioneers feel like they could compete with anyone.
“We played Anacortes and took them 0-0 into the seventh inning,” Gelwicks said. “They won 4-2, but that was a huge confidence booster for us. That’s been kind of our (mantra): we aren’t going to play anybody better than these guys.”
The Pioneers plan to employ the attitude when they head south to face 1A powerhouse Montesano, which lost in the 1A state title game two years ago and has reached state five of the past six years.
And with nine seniors (Ryan Gelwicks, Taylor Gardner, Tanner Myhre, Brady Wood, Cole Mattice, Connor Anderson, Curtis Handy, Trevon Beck and Parker Schram), don’t expect Nooksack Valley to be intimidated.
“Curtis Handy has really brought a lot of leadership,” said Rawls of Pioneers’ standout catcher. “He is always staying positive and always wants to help out with what we can do better.”