Every Class 1A coach knew the new 1A playoff format, with only three of the four Northwest Conference teams making the postseason, was going to bring its own challenges.
None of them thought it would come down to a three-team mini-playoff with teams forced into two-quarter games with a playoff berth on the line.
“It was fun. It was a fun atmosphere,” Mount Baker coach Brenda Ellis said in a phone interview. “It was a lot of pressure. The two-quarter thing is huge. Anybody can play with anybody for a half. I never would have guessed that it would come down to this. It was easy for me to say it was fun because we’re moving on. It was exciting. Do I want to keep going through that every year? Not really.”
Both Nooksack Valley and Mount Baker used the mini playoff to secure their berths to the postseason on Saturday, Feb. 7, at Lynden Christian High School, which left Meridian (10-10, 5-7 NWC) on the outside looking in.
The Pioneers clinched their spot quickly, pulling to a 20-12 lead in the first quarter and holding off the Trojans in the second to grab a 29-19 win.
Mariah Perry led Nooksack in the first game with 12 points and Meridian was led by Natalie Swanson, who had six.
“We executed tremendously offensively, did a good job of attacking,” Nooksack coach Shane Wichers said in a phone interview. “Meridian got a lot of shots but didn’t shoot well.”
The back-and-forth, trading buckets style of play continued in the second game of the evening, as Mount Baker and Meridian combined for 64 points in just two quarters of play.
Meridian was on the wrong side again though, falling to Baker 37-27, eliminating the Trojans from the playoffs.
Emily Yost led the Mountaineers with 14 points and Kyrin Baklund had 10 for Meridian.
“I think obviously there’s a lot of pressure on both teams. There were times where we stretched it out there pretty good then Meridian would come back,” Ellis said. “They’re super scrappy. ... It was one of those things where maybe our experience helped down the stretch.”
Nooksack and Mount Baker played for seeding in the final game of the day, with the Pioneers prevailing 30-26. Nooksack’s Katrina Gimmaka had a team-high nine points and Yost had 10 points in the seeding game.
With the win, the Pioneers snag a home game for the first round of the district playoffs, which will be against Sultan on Monday, Feb. 9. Mount Baker, though, has to play on the road against Cedar Park Christian on Monday in Bothell.
“I do believe that on any given night any of us can challenge each other. We all beat each other this year,” Ellis said. “As far as Meridian goes, they’re a good team too.”