By Ray Hamill — The Panthers are getting hot at a very opportune time.
On Friday, McKinleyville won its fourth straight game in boys basketball, defeating Eureka at home by a score of 70-61 and avenging an earlier loss to the Loggers.
The win lifts the Panthers to 2-4 in league play and 11-10 on the season, and keeps them in the thick of the chase for a top-three finish and a place in this year’s Dick Niclai tournament.
AJ Stubbs was the catalyst in the win, proving unstoppable all night and finishing with a game-high 40 points.
“AJ was huge,” McKinleyville head coach Sonny Tripp said. “He’s a quiet team leader. He’s soft spoken, but he’s a baller. He’s got an inside game, and he’s got an outside game.”
The Loggers had no answer for the Mack senior, who was also a perfect 10-for-10 from the free-throw line, and scored 13 of his team’s 25 third-quarter points as the Panthers pulled away to an 18-point advantage heading into the final quarter.
Senior guard Isaac Puzz, who is also enjoying a stellar season, added 10 points in the win.
“AJ and Isaac have been pretty consistent for us all season,” Tripp said.
It’s been an up-and-down campaign for the Panthers, who lost six straight before their recent four-game winning streak.
But they have gotten hot at an opportune time, and are now just one win behind Arcata in the chase for third in the Big 5 after opening their league campaign 0-4.
Arcata improved to 3-4 in conference play with a stunning 54-49 road win at Del Norte on Friday.
Arcata closes out at home to high-flying Fortuna next week, while McKinleyille’s final two games are at home to Del Norte and at Fortuna.
Craig Peterson added eight for the Panthers, while teammate Jake White finished with six.
Eureka dropped to 2-5 in the Big 5 and saw its chances of a top-three finish all but end with one game remaining.
Trevor Bell paced the Loggers (5-14 overall) offensively with 10 points, while Jayden Thayer added nine points, Zach Reed seven and Braden Glavich six.
A total of 11 of the 12 Eureka players to suit up scored in a balanced team performance.
Eureka hosts St. Bernard’s on Monday, while McKinleyville hosts Del Norte on Wednesday in what is now another crucial game for the Panthers.