By Ray Hamill — The Panthers needed this one, and it showed.
In one of the best rivalries on the North Coast, McKinleyville turned in a dominating performance to pull out a 74-54 win at Arcata High on Thursday, keeping their playoff hopes alive while denting those of their rivals.
The win was the first in the Big 5 for the Mack boys and ended a six-game losing streak dating back to December.
A loss would have all but ended any chances of finishing third in the Big 5 this season and qualifying for either the Dick Niclai Memorial Tournament or the North Coast Section playoffs.
“With our backs against the wall, we had to come out swinging,” McKinleyville head coach Sonny Tripp said.
The Panthers certainly stepped up when they needed to, in a rivalry matchup that is often among the most unpredictable on the North Coast.
Big second quarter for Puzz
After an even first quarter, the visitors pulled away in the second period, outscoring the home team 22-7 to open up a 15-point lead at the interval.
Senior guard Isaac Puzz was instrumental in the second-quarter surge, scoring five of his six 3-pointers for the night.
Puzz finished with a game-high 31 points.
“He’s a great team leader,” Tripp said of Puzz. “He’s a three-year varsity starter and I’ve never once questioned his work ethic. And he’s just a positive person to be around.”
The Tigers rallied after the interval, going on a 19-9 run to open the third, but the Panthers answered late in the period, going on a 7-0 run to stretch the advantage back to double digits.
In an intense rivalry, the game got a little out of hand over the final 10 minutes or so with several technical fouls called, although the outcome was rarely in doubt in the fourth quarter as the visitors maintained a double-digit lead throughout the period.
“I thought we played excellent on both ends of the floor,” Tripp said. “I thought our defensive effort was at the max tonight, and we shared the ball pretty well and found some offensive flow.”
Clutch free throws
Puzz nailed four free throws on a technical to start that 7-0 run in the third quarter and settle his team down again.
“I thought McKinleyville played hard and they played well,” Arcata head coach Dusty Scofield said. “For us, we have to have better starts.”
Jake White added 16 points in the win, while teammates Thomas Locatelli and AJ Stubbs each scored eight.
Stubbs was clutch from the line in the fourth, nailing all six of his attempts.
Garrett Hall led Arcata with 17 points, while Hunter Santsche had 12.
With the win, the Panthers improve to 1-4 in the Big 5 and 8-10 overall, while Arcata drops to 2-3 and 8-12.
The Tigers remain third in the Big 5 standings and are still on target for at least the No. 3 seed for the Dick Niclai tourney.
Next up, McKinleyville plays at Ferndale on Tuesday, while Arcata hosts Eureka next Wednesday.