By Ray Hamill — It’s do or die time for the McKinleyville Panthers.
Halfway through the Big 5 campaign, the Mack boys are 0-4 in league and riding a six-game losing streak. On Tuesday, they fell at home to league leaders Fortuna by a score of 86-66.
But it’s far from over for the Panthers, who despite their record are still well in contention for a place in the Dick Niclai Memorial Tournament, as well as the North Coast Section playoffs.
Their four league defeats include a pair of games against Arcata and Eureka that they lost by just a combined seven points, and the Panthers have been competitive in three of their four games.
Head coach Sonny Tripp, who led the program to just its second-ever league crown a year ago, knows his players are close to getting back on track.
“I think we can,” he said. “We’re not even close to giving up. We’re working hard in practice and we still believe in each other.”
The McKinleyville boys travel to take on Arcata on Thursday night, in what is now a must-win game for them.
To have any shot at finishing third in the Big 5 and making the Niclai field, the Panthers will now likely need to beat Arcata, Eureka and Del Norte over the next two weeks.
And to do so, they’ll need to tidy up some fundamentals of the game quickly.
“I think we have to start faster and not bury ourselves in a hole like we did in three of our four games,” Tripp said. “And we have to (cut down) our turnovers and hit our shots.”
Giving up too many offensive rebounds and the resulting second and third chances have not helped either.
The Tigers come into Thursday’s game at 2-2 in conference and a win over their closest rivals would see them take a big step toward achieving at least a third seed for the Niclai.
And Tripp is well aware of the challenge their closest rivals present present.
“They bring championship basketball every time they step on the court,” the Mack head coach said. “It should be fun. It’s a good rivalry.”
Arcata’s Jaden Gorge was a difference maker the last time these two teams met, scoring 22 points and nailing all 12 of his free throws.
Thursday’s tip off is set for 7:30 p.m.