Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News Peninsula’s Tiffani Smith, left, looks for a way around Whatcom’s Phoebe Wong in the closing minutes of Friday night’s matchup in Port Angeles.

Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News Peninsula’s Tiffani Smith, left, looks for a way around Whatcom’s Phoebe Wong in the closing minutes of Friday night’s matchup in Port Angeles.

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Peninsula women beat Whatcom, qualify for NWAC tourney

PORT ANGELES — At one point this season, the Peninsula women were 2-13.

Those days are long forgotten now.

The Pirates came storming back, not only in the second half of the season, but in the second half of Wednesday’s game against the Whatcom Orcas to finish league play at 6-6, qualifying as a No. 4 North Division seed to the NWAC Tournament.

Moments after beating Whatcom 70-56, the women were told that Olympic had lost its game against Bellevue, putting its league record at 5-7 and thus sending the Pirate women directly into the NWAC tourney. There had been a distinct possibility the women would have to play a dreaded play-in game Saturday against Olympic to get in the tournament.

Peninsula won six out of its last nine games to make the NWAC Tournament.

Coach Allison Crumb said the Pirates were tight in the first half of Wednesday’s 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.”

Crumb said that 2-13 start, “feels like it was a long time ago. Now, maybe we can go out and surprise some people at the [NWAC] tournament.”

The Whatcom game was actually close until the fourth quarter. The women held a 34-33 lead at the half, but the Orcas, who only hit three 3-pointers all game, came out in the third quarter and drilled two quick 3-pointers in less than 45 seconds, putting the Pirates in a 39-34 hole.

From that point on, the Pirates outscored the Orcas 36-17.

The Pirates first clawed back to regain their one-point lead going into the fourth quarter up just 50-49. They went on a 14-1 run to open the fourth quarter to blow the game wide open, capped by a Payton Caci 3-pointer that put a deep dagger in the Orcas’ hopes with 4:50 left to play. Whatcom never recovered from that onslaught and never got closer than 10 points the rest of the way. Peninsula ended up outscoring Whatcom 20-7 in the fourth.

Yamelei Rodriguez was a huge part of the Pirates’ run in the second half. She had just two points and three rebounds in the first half, but scored 16 points and pulled down eight boards in her monster second half.

Rodriguez couldn’t get much done in the first half because of two quick fouls, but she knew 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.”

Rodriguez, Ashlynn Sharp and Jamellia Clark all had double-doubles for the Pirates.

Sharp had 15 points, including three 3-pointers, and 12 rebounds.

“With the fight and drive this team has, I knew we could do it,” Sharp said.

The secret to the women’s 6-3 finish down the stretch?

“I really think something just clicked, I don’t know. It took us a long time, but we learned to play together,” she said.

Clark had 14 points and 15 rebounds, while Tiffani Smith scored nine points, with four assists and six boards. Caci scored 10 points.

The women will learn on Sunday who they will play in the first round of the NWAC tournament. The women’s tournament begins March 8.

Peninsula 70, Whatcom 56

Peninsula 17 16 16 7 — 56

Whatcom 13 21 16 20 — 70

Whatcom (56) — Elissa 15, Hadaway 11, Case 10, Sande 10.

Peninsula (70) — Rodriguez 18, Sharp 15, Clark 14, Caci 10, Smith 9, Moore 4.

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