By Ray Hamill — The excitement is building in the Big 5, and this year’s league has been about as competitive as anyone could have hoped for.
Not at the top, of course, where the Huskies are a perfect 6-0 and on the verge of clinching not just a second straight conference crown, but also a first undefeated Big 5 campaign since 2014.
The rest of the Big 5, however, has been a wild and wonderful ride thus far, and will now go down to the final night of action.
At stake is a top-three spot and a place in the Dick Niclai Memorial Tournament.
With one week remaining in the regular season, just two games separate second from fifth, and any one of the four teams can make the tournament, just as any of the four can miss out.
As for who has the advantage, Del Norte certainly appears to be in the driver’s seat to finish second, with a record of 3-2 and both losses coming against the runaway league leaders.
Del Norte (3-2) — vs. Arcata, at McKinleyville, vs. Eureka
Eureka (2-4) — at McKinleyville, at Del Norte
Arcata (2-4) — at Del Norte, vs. Fortuna
McKinleyville (1-4) — vs. Eureka, vs. Del Norte, at Fortuna
The Warriors will make the prestigious postseason tournament with a single win, and two will almost certainly guarantee them second.
Eureka, which is 3-3 in its last six games, has two league wins for the first time since 2014, and has some momentum after a big come-from-behind win at Arcata on Wednesday.
The Loggers (2-4) have two games remaining, including a road matchup at Del Norte, which is never easy, and a game at McKinleyville on Friday night, which will be pivotal to their chances.
Arcata is also 2-4 with two games remaining against the top two teams, which will make it difficult.
If the Tigers lose both, the Loggers will be well positioned to finish third, providing they can win at McKinleyville.
With McKinleyville (1-4) still in the mix — barely — that Friday night showdown suddenly looks like one of the most important games of the season in the Big 5.
A win for the Panthers, however, won’t guarantee anything for them, with remaining games at home to Del Norte and at Fortuna, which will make it difficult regardless.
If Del Norte and Fortuna win out, as most would expect them to do, and McKinleyville defeats Eureka at home, then third place would come down to three-way tie.
It should definitely be an interesting week ahead for all involved.