By Ray Hamill — Two local baseball teams have been setting the standard through the early season, and as we head into the Big 5 schedule, there’s little to separate them in the rankings.
Both Arcata and McKinleyville are still unbeaten and both got conference play started in style on Tuesday with comfortable wins.
The two teams have, however, flip-flopped in the MaxPreps rankings recently, with Arcata leapfrogging their rivals for top spot in the North Coast Section Division IV.
The Tigers (11-0) are also ranked No. 32 overall in the state, impressive territory for a Division-IV school on the North Coast, as well as eighth overall in the NCS.
The Panthers likewise are getting plenty of respect, as they should with an impressive 8-0 mark, and are currently No. 2 in the NCS Division IV, and No. 87 in California.
The two teams are well ahead of the rest of the Humboldt-Del Norte League when it comes to the baseball or softball rankings.
The third highest ranked local team is McKinleyville softball, which is No. 212 in the state, with St. Bernard’s baseball coming in at No. 273, a very respectable mark for a Division-V program.
The Crusaders are also No. 3 in their NCS bracket, while the defending NCS champion South Fork boys are riding high at No. 2 in Division VI.
The Mack girls are also No. 2 in their NCS bracket, with Arcata not too far behind at No. 6.
1 — Arcata (11-0)
If there is one difference between the Tigers and Panthers right now, you could argue it’s Merick Sears.
He’s not the only reason the Tigers are looking a lot stronger this season, but his return from injury has been pivotal, and along with Jaden Gorge gives Arcata a potent one-two pitching punch.
The Tigers are also getting offensive production from a lot of different players.
2 — McKinleyville (8-0)
It’s difficult to find fault in a team that’s unbeaten and one that laid down a statement of intent in its Big 5 opener on Tuesday.
The Panthers have plenty of depth both on the mound and at the plate.
Arcata and Mack are not just the top two ranked teams in in NCS Division IV, but they are by quite a margin, according to the MaxPreps points system.
3 — St. Bernard’s (7-2)
The Crusaders are the heavy favorites in the Little 4 and have been impressive through their opening nine games, with their only losses coming against two quality teams.
Senior Caleb Ruiz is the leader on this team, but the Crusaders have been getting contributions from a lot of players and a quality freshmen class that is playing with a veteran composure.
4 — Eureka (3-3)
With rainouts on two of the past three weekends, it’s difficult to say for sure just how good this year’s Eureka team will be.
The Loggers have plenty of talent, that’s for sure, it’s just a matter of getting some games in and building some momentum.
The Eureka boys could yet be the most dangerous team on the North Coast and have arguably the best player in the area in returning Big 5 MVP David Vagle.
5 — South Fork (6-0)
You might be surprised to see South Fork here, but we’re giving the Cubs the nod for now.
The South Fork boys are loaded with talented athletes, including CJ Van Meter, one of the best baseball players in the area, and they look like they could be best positioned to challenge the Crusaders in the Little 4.
Neither Del Norte nor South Fork has beaten any quality opposition yet, so it’s difficult to say for sure who deserves the No. 5 spot.
The Ferndale Wildcats, meanwhile, have yet to find their rhythm in what has been a tough schedule, but could be dangerous as well when they get going.
Likewise with Fortuna.
1 — McKinleyville (5-0)
The Panthers’ lineup suggests they are the best team on the North Coast heading into the Big 5.
Whether they remain No. 1 remains to be seen, and they’ve got some talented teams right on their heels, including a fast-rising close rival.
The Mack girls feature a senior-heavy and deep lineup that shouldn’t get rattled, but they’re going to have to overcome some top-notch coaching in the Big 5 if they are to succeed.
2 — Arcata (7-1)
Speaking of top-notch coaching, new head coach Teresa Stavert and her “rookie” assistant Frack Cheek have had an immediate impact on a program that has struggled for much of the past decade, quickly establishing the Tigers as one of the teams to beat locally this season.
They inherited a roster with some talent but the Tigers’ quick ascension to No. 6 in the NCS Division-IV bracket is one of the stories of the season.
And they’re only going to get better.
3 — Eureka (4-2)
The Loggers should be right in the mix as well, and appear every bit as balanced as any of their Big 5 rivals, with a lot of players contributing right now, particularly at the plate.
That’s unlikely to change.
The success of this team, however, is likely to come down to their sophomore pitching and in particular Alexa Morehouse, who has fared well so far.
But the opposition will get tougher.
4 — Del Norte (2-7)
Don’t let the record fool you, most of the Warriors’ losses have come against quality opposition.
New head coach Jackie Heuberger is calling the shots this season.
5 — Fortuna (3-5)
Likewise with the Fortuna Huskies, who have also played some quality opposition leading up to the Big 5.
But the Huskies did suffer a tough loss at home to Arcata on Tuesday to open the Big 5.