By Ray Hamill — It looks like it’s going to be an expensive season for McKinleyville head coach Shanna McCracken.
But you won’t find her complaining about that.
McCracken promised her players she would buy them a treat of some sort — like donuts — every time they post a shutout.
On Thursday, the Panthers shut down the high-flying Arcata Tigers, handing them their first loss in nine games, 4-0.
It was the fourth shutout win for McKinleyville in five league games, as the Panthers improved to 5-0 in the Big 5.
“They’re probably going to make me broke,” McCracken joked afterwards.
It was another clinical performance from the Panthers and senior pitcher McKenzie Gonsalves, who has been almost untouchable in five league appearances, giving up just two runs in 26 innings over the past seven days.
It helps that she has a senior-heavy defense that has been playing with a veteran composure.
The biggest difference between the two teams, who came into the top-of-the-table clash with 18 wins between them in 19 games combined, was that experience.
“Again, they showed that they have each other’s back,” McCracken said. “(McKenzie) knows she can trust the girls behind her.”
Gonsalves pitched a complete game, scattering three hits and two walks, while striking out six.
She has been almost as impressive at the plate and once again led the way for her team with a pair of hits and two RBIs.
Bernald continues to grow
For Arcata, junior pitcher Makayla Bernald was almost as impressive in the circle.
Bernald allowed six hits and just two earned runs, while walking two and striking out six.
She has clearly matured as a pitcher from a year ago.
“Makayla is doing fantastic,” Arcata head coach Teresa Stavert said. “She’s listening, and she’s learning how to pitch. She’s not just throwing strikes, but she’s learning how to pitch. And she’s just growing every day.”
McCracken also praised the junior standout.
“She’s definitely the best pitcher we’ve seen all season,” the McKinleyville coach said. “So making the adjustments we needed was good to see.”
Stavert has a young lineup that has taken some serious strides this season with a record of 9-2 (3-1 in the Big 5), which is already the program’s most wins in a single season since winning 14 games in 2008.
“I’m not disappointed,” the head coach said afterwards. “I was pleased with how they played. You have to look at where these girls came from. They’re working hard, and they’re getting better every day.”
The Panthers have made a habit of striking early and they continued that trend by taking a one-run lead in the top of the first inning.
They added two more in the third and one in the fourth, which was more than Gonsalves and her defense would need.
One player who did have some success at the plate for the Tigers was senior catcher Kori McCracken, who finished 2-for-3.
Claire Broadman added the Tigers’ only other hit.
Mack third baseman Jaycee Morais and first baseman Cassidy Randall combined for an inning-ending double play in the bottom of the fifth.
At the plate for the Panthers, Lexi White finished 1-for-3 with two runs scored, while Lily Thiesfeld was 1-for-1 with an RBI.
Ashley Ballew and Grace Rosebrook rounded out a six-hit team performance with a hit each, while Morais and Theresia Dickey both scored a run.
The Panthers are now the last unbeaten local team in either softball or baseball, improving to 10-0 overall and 5-0 in the Big 5.
The two teams are scheduled to play a doubleheader at McKinleyville on Saturday.