With a big lead all but frittered away and a chance to advance in the state tournament hanging in the balance, good fortune put the ball in the hands of Nooksack Valley’s best 3-point shooter Friday evening.
Senior Olivia Berkan calmly drained a bloodless bomb with 1:42 remaining in the game, propelling the Pioneers past Zillah in the Yakima Valley SunDome and into the semifinals on Friday, March 4, of the Class 1A state tournament, 51-42.
Nooksack Valley (20-9) will play defending champion and district rival King’s tonight at 7:15. The winner will play in the title game at 9 p.m. Saturday. The Pioneers are guaranteed their first trophy since 2008.
“If we need someone to shoot that three, Liv’s a great choice,” a smiling Nooksack coach Shane Wichers said after the game. “She has the confidence to shoot it and we have confidence in her shooting it.”
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Berkan came into the tournament averaging just 5.3 points a game. But she fully heeded Wichers’ “If you’ve got the shot, take it,” mantra.
“We trust each other to take those shots,” Berkan said. “I saw the fact that I was open and I hit it.”
Berkan followed the 3-ball up with a free throw 10 seconds later and suddenly the deliberate Zillah offense that had cut a nine-point deficit down to a single point twice looked frantic. The patience basket-attacking approach was out the window and the Leopards threw the ball up from all over. The Leopards didn’t score again after that point.
Wichers’ smile was a role reversal from his countenance during the final quarter when Zillah’s march to the free-throw line turned a blowout in the making into a close contest.
“We really wanted our kids to force them left but we were slow helping out,” he said. “I think our kids were worried that they would get burned if the ball got back to their man.”
Zillah hit seven of eight free throw attempts in a 54 second span, whittling a 40-31 deficit down to 40-39.
After a free throw by Arlissa Oettel – who led the Pioneers with 16 points – and a lay-in by Rachel Sande, Samantha Bowman answered for Zillah with a 3-point play.
Just 12 seconds later Nooksack Valley rotated the ball into the right corner and Berkan’s confidence and sharpshooting skills came into play. And the semifinals came into focus.
Nooksack Valley 51, Zillah 42
Zillah: Myers 3, Favilla 0, Samantha Bowman 18, Trista Takes Enemy 11, True 5, Ziegler 0, Alejandre 0, Delp 3, John 0, Darrey 0, Lunning 2.
Nooksack Valley: Arlissa Oettel 16, Tenkley 0, Berkan 4, Katrina Gimmaka 13, Turner 2, Sande 9, Stremler 0, Zavala 0, E. Gimmaka 7, Zylstra 0