By Ray Hamill — One way or the other, it should be a fascinating week on the local baseball and softball fields.
At the very least, it will be telling.
On Wednesday afternoon, the league lead will be up for grabs in all four conferences.
In baseball, co-Big 5 leaders McKinleyville and Arcata will face off at Mack High in the first of three crucial matchups between the two teams this week.
Both are highly ranked within the North Coast Section by MaxPreps — Arcata is No. 7 overall and Mack is No. 13 — and they are the top two ranked teams in Division IV.
Each is unbeaten not only in league play but also on the season — Arcata is 13-0 and McKinleyville 10-0 — so something has to give on Wednesday.
Likewise in softball, where the same two schools are leading the way.
The Panthers are unbeaten this year at 9-0 and took over sole possession of top spot in the Big 5 standings with a 10-0 win at Fortuna on Monday to go to 4-0 in conference play.
Three of their four wins in the Big 5 have been shutouts and a senior-heavy and experienced Panthers team is living up to expectations this spring, and perhaps even surpassing them with the clinical manner they have been winning.
Tougher games lie ahead, however, including Wednesday’s game at Arcata.
The Tigers have been equally impressive and are 3-0 in league play and 9-1 overall, having won eight straight.
Arcata is currently the No. 3 ranked Division-IV team in the NCS, one spot behind the Panthers, with Salesian No. 1.
Both Arcata and McKinleyville are also scheduled to play a doubleheader at Mack High on Saturday.
Don’t forget the Loggers
While the Panthers and Tigers will be battling it out for the league lead, another school will begin league play on Wednesday with serious championship ambitions in both sports.
The Eureka baseball team is the two-time defending Big 5 champion and arguably the deepest of all North Coast rosters.
But with several rainouts this season, and just three games over the past month, it’s been difficult for the Loggers to find much rhythm.
How quickly they hit the ground running will be key to their league ambitions, because they can ill-afford to lose much ground to Arcata and McKinleville.
The Loggers, who are 3-3, will open against Del Norte in what will be their first home game of the season.
Likewise for the Eureka girls, who are an impressive 6-2 this season, with all eight of their games on the road.
The Eureka girls also open the Big 5 at home to Del Norte on Wednesday, and they too can ill-afford to lose ground to the high-flying Panthers and Tigers.
Both Big 5 races look wide open right now, but we should know a lot more by the end of this week.
Cubs lead tight chase in L4
In the Little 4, meanwhile, Ferndale will travel to St. Bernard’s with a share of the league lead in baseball on the line.
In what is also shaping up to be a fascinating battle this season — arguably the most competitive of all four local conferences — the L4 is loaded with top-notch pitching and looks likely to be a three-horse race between South Fork (7-1), St. Bernard’s (8-3) and Ferndale (4-5).
The Cubs lead the way in the L4 with a record of 3-1 after a doubleheader split with the Crusaders on Saturday, with both SB and Ferndale at 2-1 coming into Wednesday’s showdown.
The Wildcats also play two games at home to the Cubs on Saturday, so this week will be particularly key for them and their title ambitions.
Little 4 softball
In softball, St. Bernard’s will host Ferndale in a single game on Wednesday at 5 p.m., after a scheduled doubleheader was postponed on Tuesday.
The Crusaders are 2-0 in league (3-5 overall) after sweeping South Fork on Friday, while Ferndale is 0-2 after dropping both ends of a doubleheader at Hoopa (2-0) on Saturday.
A win for the Crusaders will see them take over sole possession of the league lead, while a win for the Wildcats will see them immediately climb right back into the chase.