Peninsula’s women picked a perfect time to find another gear, one that leads to the NWAC tournament.
With a 70-56 win over Whatcom on Feb. 28 and Olympic’a loss to Bellevue the same evening, the Pirates (6-6 in conference, 8-16 overall) locked up the North Region’s fourth and final berth into the conference tourney.
It was PC’s third win in a row — Peninsula hadn’t had back-to-back wins all season — and fifth win in seven games, helping the squad rebound from an injury-riddled 2-15 start to the season.
Peninsula takes on the South Region champ, top-ranked Umpqua (15-1, 28-1), in the first round of the NWAC tourney on March 8 in Everett. The winner advances to play the winner of the Centralia-Columbia Basin game at 2 p.m. on March 9.
Tied with Olympic going into the final game of the regular season and facing either elimination (with a PC loss and Olympic win) or a tourney play-in game (if the teams remained tied), Peninsula got a huge fourth quarter to secure their win against Whatcom, while Olympic was roughed up 80-51 by the region champs in Bellevue.
Peninsula coach Allison Crumb said the Pirates were tight in the first half of the Whatcom game, knowing the implications of the game.
Meanwhile, Whatcom is near the bottom of the standings and had no pressure.
“It was a funky game,” Crumb said. “It was hard for us playing a team with nothing to lose. They didn’t have the weight on their shoulders that we had. In the fourth quarter, I think they (the Pirates) just got tired of it. They said, ‘We’ve come too far to roll over.’ They played a hell of a fourth quarter.”
Whatcom’s Orcas, who finished tied with Edmonds for last in the seven-team North Region, held a 17-13 lead after one quarter, but Peninsula battled back to take a 34-33 lead by halftime.
It remained a back-and-forth game through the end of the third quarter; Tiffany Smith scored on a lay-up for a 50-49 PC lead, one they wouldn’t give up the rest of the way.
The Pirates went on a 14-1 run highlighted by three Yamilei Rodriguez layups and capped by a Payton Caci 3-pointer, pushing the PC lead to 64-50 with 4:53 remaining. Whatcom never got Peninsula’s lead under double digits.
Rodriguez led Peninsula with 18 points and 11 rebounds — nine on the offensive glass — while Jamellia Clark had 15 points and 14 boards. Ashlynn Sharp added 15 points and 12 rebounds off the bench.
Rodriguez said she couldn’t get much done in the first half because of two quick fouls, but that if the Pirates were going to win she was going to have to contribute in the second half.
“I knew the team needed me,” she said.
“Some people doubted us, I think some people here doubted us, but we never doubted each other” Rodriguez said of the team’s finish. “We took a bad situation and turned into the best situation we could.”
Peninsula out-rebounded Whatcom 54-37 and held the Orcas to 31 percent shooting.
Elissa Vreugdenhil led Whatcom with 15 points and 13 rebounds.
The NWAC women’s basketball tournament is slated for March 8-9 and 17-18 in Everett.
Peninsula Daily News sports editor Pierre LaBossiere contributed to this report.