Arcata

Panthers get Niclai hopes back on track

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Photos by Ray Hamill/HumboldtSports.com – McKinleyville’s Kylee Townsend defends Arcata’s Sophia Belton on Friday night.

By Ray Hamill — Just 24 hours after the McKinleyville boys basketball team ended a long losing skid, the Mack girls did the same on Friday night, beating rivals Arcata at home by a score of 56-43.

The win was the team’s first since two days after Christmas, and ended a streak of seven straight losses, although many of them have come against top teams and larger schools.

More importantly, the win keeps the Panthers well in the hunt for at least third place in the Big 5 and the No. 3 and final seed for the Dick Niclai Memorial Tournament.

Despite their recent struggles, the Panthers’ record this season against Division-IV schools means they should comfortably make the North Coast Section playoffs for the first time under fourth-year head coach Tony McClure.

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McKinleyville’s Hope Kibby moves the ball up court.

Heenan shines again

On Friday, they wasted little time taking control of the game, closing out the first quarter with a 13-1 run to open up an 11-point lead going into the second quarter.

Junior guard Hope Kibby was inspirational early on for the Mack girls, while sophomore Cameron Heenan continues to impress with each game and has evolved into one of the team’s go-to players.

“Cameron Heenan really had a great first half offensively,” McClure said. “She’s been more consistent for us, and she’s been able to complement Rayn (Tripp) a little bit.”

It gives the Panthers two go-to players offensively, and makes it more difficult for opposing teams to focus on one of them.

Heenan finished with a game-high 16 points and was a perfect 6-for-6 at the free-throw line.

The Panthers came out a little slow in the second half, allowing the visitors to cut into the lead as the game got sloppy, with a lot of fouls called.

Trailing by 22 at the half, the Tigers outscored the Panthers 10-2 in the third quarter to pull back within 14, but the home team found its composure again in the fourth to comfortably hold on for the win.

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Rian Heenan and the McKinleyville bench celebrate a basket.

It was the second time the Panthers defeated the Tigers in league play, and the third time this season, giving them a three-game sweep over their closest rivals for the first time in a while.

“We definitely shot the ball well in the first half, which was good, because we struggled shooting the ball at Fortuna (on Wednesday),” McClure said. “It was good to see.”

Extra chances

Tripp took a hard fall in the first half, but didn’t allow it to slow her down, returning a few minutes later and finishing with 13 points, including four 3-pointers.

Kyrie Wiegand also had a big game for the home team, finishing with 14 points, and stepped up big in the second quarter as the home team pulled away.

“She got us some extra chances and drew us a lot of fouls,” McClure said of the junior forward. “I liked what she gave us today.”

Theresia Dickey also continued to impress defensively, and has become one of the top shutdown players in the Big 5.

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Arcata’s Kali Zanotti looks to set up a play during Friday’s game.

Poor shooting

A young Arcata team shot poorly in the first half, despite numerous offensive rebounds and second chances.

Kali Zanotti had a good game in the loss, however, finishing with a team-high 15 points, including three 3-pointers, while Raja Cohen finished with 13 points and Jocelyn Bliven six.

With the win, the Panthers improved to 2-3 in the Big 5 and are now tied with Fortuna for third.

They are 11-10 overall.

Arcata, meanwhile, is now 0-5 in the Big 5 and 8-12 overall.

Arcata plays at Eureka next Tuesday, while McKinleyville hosts South Fork on the same night.

The Mack boys ended a six-game losing streak on Thursday night.

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