By Ray Hamill — McKinleyville took a huge step toward a first conference crown in 12 years on Saturday, defeating arch rivals Arcata in extra innings for the second time this week.
And it was senior Lance Lally who provided much of the late heroics, as the Panthers broke open a scoreless game with three runs in the top of the eighth and held on for a 3-0 win.
The victory lifts the Panthers to 5-1 in the Big 5 at the halfway stage, and gives them sole possession of top spot in the standings, one win ahead of Arcata, which is now 4-2.
It also gives them the regular season series against their closest rivals, having also beaten the Tigers in eight innings on Wednesday in a doubleheader split.
“It puts us in a good position, but there’s still a long way to go,” McKinleyville head coach Scott St. John said. “We still need to get better at some things, but we’re in a good spot.”
It was another strong pitching performance from both teams, with starters Corbin Eichin of McKinleyville and Merick Sears of Arcata each controlling the tempo in a quick game.
Eichin pitched 5 innings, allowing just two hits and striking out five, while Sears went 5.2 innings, also allowing just two hits and striking out 10.
“Merick Sears is a heck of a pitcher,” St. John said. “That kid threw well and he kept them in the game.”
The Mack coach also praised Eichin, who has stepped up his game this season and become a solid starter.
“For a sophomore, in a big game like this, that was outstanding,” he said.
Lally relieved Eichin in the sixth and tossed three hitless and scoreless innings for the win.
The senior also stepped up at the plate, driving in two of his team’s three runs with a two-out double to make it 3-0.
“You know what you’re going to get with Lance,” St. John said. “He’s our closer. He comes in and he shuts the door.”
Cameron Saso led off the eighth inning with a walk, before Eichin was hit by a pitch and Regan Wolfe singled to load the bases with one out.
A sacrifice fly by Kyler Carr to center field scored Eichin to break the deadlock, before Lally added two insurance runs.
“We hung in there and we got some big hits when we needed them,” said St. John, whose team is now 12-1 overall.
For Arcata, freshman Vincent Agliolo continued to play like a veteran, finishing with both of his team’s hits.
Ben Narwold took the loss on the mound in relief.
“We had our opportunities, and again, like in the second game (on Wednesday), we don’t get a bunt down when it counts,” Arcata head coach Troy Ghisetti said. “We’re not that team that can string together five or six hits.”
Ghisetti also praised the Panthers for their performance.
“I thought they had a good intensity today, and Eichin did a good job keeping them in the game,” he said.
Eichin, Carr and Isaac Puzz rounded out a five-hit team performance for Mack.
Arcata came into the game as the top-ranked Division-IV team in the North Coast Section, with McKinleyville No. 2.
The Tigers dropped to 14-2 overall.
McKinleyville last won the Big 5 in 2007, sharing the title with both Eureka and Arcata, and last won it outright in 1996.