By Ray Hamill — It’s been a fun year so far for the McKinleyville High baseball and softball teams, and it doesn’t look like the fun’s going to end any time soon.
On Saturday each took a substantial step toward a league title, and a substantial step toward ending what has been a barren few years for both programs when it comes to the Big 5.
The softball team last won a league title in 2011, and last year saw its chances of winning a championship end in the final week of the regular season with three losses to Del Norte.
This year, the Panthers are back with a determined attitude and are now 7-0 in the Big 5 after sweeping two more games from Arcata on Saturday.
Likewise in baseball, McKinleyville is top of the standings with a 5-1 record after taking two of three from Arcata this week.
The boys have not won a league title since sharing it with both Arcata and Eureka in 2007, and have not won one outright since 1996.
Halfway through the schedule, both McKinleyville teams should be more than happy with where they stand, and confident they can end their recent droughts.
Loggers waiting for their turn
Any title, however, is far from clinched just yet, with a wild card in the mix in both sports — namely Eureka.
Both Eureka teams have been relatively quiet thus far, especially the baseball team which has played just four games in the past five weeks and just seven all season.
It’s not just that we don’t know what to expect from the Loggers, but they don’t know what to expect themselves.
“McKinleyville has put themselves in the driving seat,” first-year Eureka head coach Jackie Christensen said after Saturday’s action. “But we’re still kind of an unknown. People don’t know what to expect from us, including ourselves. We’re still wondering how we’re going to be. We haven’t really been tested yet.”
The Loggers had a pair of games rained out at Del Norte on Saturday, giving them a total of nine rainouts this season, two more than the number of games they’ve actually played.
And while Arcata and McKinleyville are now halfway through their Big 5 schedule, Eureka has played just one league game, a 9-4 win over Del Norte on Wednesday.
“It’s been a pretty common occurrence for us,” Christensen said of the rainouts. “The rain gods are against us … It’s been a little frustrating.”
The good news is the Loggers still have plenty of opportunities to get in all of their league games and shouldn’t be overloaded as the season winds down.
Nor should they be overlooked.
Eureka also has the deepest pitching staff of any local team, something the new head coach is hoping will play into their hands when they face off against McKinlyville and Arcata later this month.
The Loggers also will have home-field advantage for two of their three matchups with each.
“Hopefully that will help us out a bit,” Christensen said. “And we’ve got the arms. I’m feeling pretty good about our team.”
The Loggers are scheduled to host Fortuna next Wednesday.
The Eureka softball team, meanwhile, also had a doubleheader rained out this weekend, and like the baseball team has played just one Big 5 game compared to the seven the league leaders have already played.
The Loggers are 1-0 in the Big 5 and 7-2 overall, having won four straight and seven of eight.
Whether they can challenge the high-flying Panthers remains to be seen, but they are a wild card in the title race and the last remaining team that could deny McKinleyville the championship.
They also have plenty of offensive threats and a potentially potent lineup.
Their Big 5 ambitions, however will likely come down to how their young pitching fares in league play.