By Ray Hamill — A 13-day gap between games didn’t appear to cause any problems for the McKinleyville Panthers on Friday afternoon, as they cruised to a 10-0 league-opening win at home to Del Norte.
In particular senior McKenzie Gonsalves, who pitched the shutout and finished with four hits on offense to key the win.
Gonsalves gave up five hits and got some clutch help from her defense to preserve the shutout, as the senior-laden Panthers lived up to their billing as Big 5 favorites, and if anything seemed to embrace it.
“They’ve been putting the work in in practice and it showed today,” McKinleyville head coach Shanna McCracken said of her players.
The coach was particularly happy with how the Panthers responded to some pressure situations, with the visitors getting runners on base in all six innings and threatening to score on several occasions.
Each time, however, Gonsalves and her defense answered the call, most impressively on an inning-ending double play in the top of the fourth.
Third baseman Jaycee Morais fielded a ground ball, stepped on third for a force out, and then threw across to first baseman Cassidy Randall to complete a 5-3 double play.
The Panthers had not played a game since winning their own tournament almost two weeks ago, with their league opener pushed back until Friday because of the weather and scheduling conflicts.
With the win, the Mack girls improved to 6-0 on the season and 1-0 in the Big 5.
Del Norte dropped to 0-1 and 2-8, but the Warriors have played some tough competition along the way.
The win was also a statement of sorts for the Mack girls, who saw their Big 5 challenge slip away last year when they lost three games in the final week of the season to Del Norte, who would clinch the league crown because of it.
The Panthers wasted little time getting started, with a lead-off single in the bottom of the first inning from shortstop Lexi White, who was driven home a few minutes later on a two-out double by Gonsalves to give the home team the early advantage.
The Panthers never looked back and would add to their tally in all six innings.
Left fielder Mikayla Minton made it 2-0 in the bottom of the second, scoring on a Grace Rosebrook single after reaching base on a fielder’s choice, before Gonsalves made it 3-0 with an RBI triple in the third, scoring White, who had singled to reach base.
Gonsalves finished 4-for-4 with a triple and a double, while driving home six of her team’s 10 runs.
“McKenzie had a great game,” McCracken said.
McKenna Turner immediately made it 4-0, following Gonsalves’ triple with an RBI base hit to plate pinch runner Lily Thiesfeld.
Rosebrook added a double in the bottom of the fourth, before scoring moments later on an Olivia Alves single.
Gonsalves then put the game to rest with a two-run single for a 7-0 advantage.
In the bottom of the fifth, McKinleyville right fielder Ashley Ballew made it 8-0, scoring on a wild pitch after being hit by a pitch to reach base and advancing to third on back-to-back groundouts.
Ballew reached base twice, also hitting a triple in the second.
Fittingly, it was Gonsalves who ended the game on the 10-run rule in the bottom of the sixth, hitting another two-RBI single.
For the game, White was 2-for-4 with two runs scored, while Morais was 2-for-3 with a walk and a stolen base.
The two teams will face off again on Saturday in a doubleheader at Crescent City at 11 a.m.